USA defence secy visit: Eye on China, drone deal on table

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The Pentagon statement, while keeping out the details, said Mattis would, during his visit, "emphasise that the United States views India as a valued and influential partner, with broad mutual interests extending well beyond South Asia".

India's increasing role in Afghanistan is expected to feature prominently during Mattis's visit, said K. V. Kuber, a New Delhi-based independent defense analyst and retired Indian Army colonel.

Mattis visit to India is the first visit by any member of President Donald Trump's cabinet.

He will also participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate, and will be accorded a Guard of Honour at the lawns of South Block, which homes the Defence Ministry.

Trump and Modi met in June in Washington and the visit by Mattis 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, told AFP.

Russian officials told The Hindu that they are already in discussions with India about the possibility of security cooperation for Afghanistan, including facilitating an ongoing proposal to refurbish Soviet-era planes and fix Russian Mi-25 helicopters donated by India, along with talks on providing spare parts and ammunition to Afghan forces, but conceded that the talks had not yet been concluded.

The tough predictions come in sharp contrast to the U.S.' new Afghanistan policy that will see at least 3,000 more troops sent to fight in Afghanistan and offers India an increased role in development projects while pushing Pakistan to act against terrorist "safe havens".

What was left unsaid in the Pentagon release was the possible inking of deals between the two countries.

According to an official statement from the Pentagon, Mattis will look to "underscore the enduring USA commitment to strategic partner India". The deal could be worth $2 billion.

Bad news for China and Pakistan?

The U.S. -India defense cooperation has steadily expanded in recent years, underpinned by common objectives and goals in the region, the secretary said, adding that such cooperation will benefit both economies while reducing any legacy or trust issues between the two democracies.

India's push for upgrading its defence is in light of the twin threats it faces from Pakistan and China.

The Trump administration wants to sell F-18 and F-16 fighter planes to India, built by American companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin respectively.

Mr. Kabulov's visit, where he is also expected to discuss Moscow's new position on talks with the Taliban, will come amidst growing concerns in India over Russia's ties with Pakistan.

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