India and the United States on Thursday vowed to expand the bilateral defence cooperation as outgoing American defence secretary Ashton Carter met his counterpart Manohar Parrikar here for the record breaking seventh time and termed New Delhi as a “major defence partner”.
“Thank you my friend,” Carter told Parrikar as both met at the South Block here.
Carter said that this is the seventh meeting that he was having meeting with Parrikar. “He is the defence minister with whom I have met for the maximum number of times,” he said emphasising the importance that US puts on its ties with India.
During the meeting, which was more of a thanksgiving one, Carter said, “Today our defence relationship takes a major step as we designate India as a major defence partner.”
A powerful US Congressional conference committee had on November 30 asked Carter and the secretary of state to take steps necessary to recognise India as America’s major defence partner in a bid to strengthen bilateral security cooperation.
The provision mentioned in the voluminous Congressional conference report, running into more than 3,000 pages, on $618 billion National Defence Authorisation Bill (NDAA), also asked the defence secretary and the secretary of state for an assessment of the extent to which India possesses capabilities to support and carry out military operations of mutual interest of the two countries.
It now needs to be formally passed by the two chambers of the Congress — the House of Representatives and Senate — before US President Barack Obama can sign it into law.
Meanwhile, Parrikar said he appreciated Carter’s strong commitment to defence partnership.
“It is not an exaggeration that our defence relations are a major driver in our bilateral relations,” he said adding Carter’s conceptualisation of the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) shows his interest in bilateral defence cooperation.
Parrikar said he was happy to see conclusion of discussion on major defence partnership.
“During our meeting over the last few years, we have agreed on practical exchanges such as LMEOA,” the defence minister said.
He added, “I am confident that the defence cooperation will expand on the foundation you have built”.
Carter replied saying that both countries have more to do in the years ahead.
“I am proud of what we have achieved my friend,” he said.
US President-elect Donald Trump has nominated James Mattis, a retired 4-star Marine Corps general, for the post of the US defence secretary.