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Fighter jets, drones on table for Mattis visit

Agence France-Presse, New Delhi, Sep 25 2017, 1:27 IST
 US Defence Secretary James Mattis, Reuters File Photo

US Defence Secretary James Mattis, Reuters File Photo

Fighter jets, drone deals and shared concerns over Afghanistan’s security challenges look set to dominate the agenda when US Defence Secretary James Mattis visits India this week.

Mattis is scheduled to arrive in Delhi late Monday and is set to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his new defence minister in the first visit by a top US official since Donald Trump became US president in January.

“The United States views India as a valued and influential partner, with broad mutual interests extending well beyond South Asia,” a Pentagon statement said.

Trump and Modi met in June in Washington, and Mattis’ visit is a sign “the political leadership in both countries place defence cooperation as a top priority”, Mukesh Aghi, president of the US India Strategic Partnership Forum said. Delhi and Washington share concerns about Afghanistan, and Trump announced a new strategy for the war-torn country last month, which cleared the way for the deployment of thousands more US troops.

The billionaire president has urged India to boost assistance to Afghanistan’s economy, and has lambasted Delhi’s arch-rival Pakistan for offering safe haven to “agents of chaos”.

Mattis “will express US appreciation for India’s important contributions toward Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security”, the Pentagon said.

India has long vied with Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, building dams, roads and a new parliament in the troubled country. Last year, it offered some $1 billion in aid.

Delhi frequently accuses Islamabad of stirring up violence in Afghanistan and harbouring militant groups.

In 2016, the United States designated India a “Major Defence Partner” and Trump has sought to further boost military ties, praising India for contributing to regional peace and stability, and for purchasing US military equipment.

Mattis is likely to seek to convince India to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 aircraft — a lucrative deal pegged at $15 billion.

Lockheed Martin has offered the most upgraded version of the fighter jet to India, the world’s largest weapons importer.

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