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First high-level visit by Biden administration: US Defense Secy plans India trip this month

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In what could turn out to be the first high-level visit from the US administration under President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin is likely to visit India later this month, sources have told The Sunday Express.

The dates being explored are between March 15 and 25. One source indicated Saturday that it is likely to be around March 20.

This will be the first Cabinet-rank official visit from the US, since the Biden administration assumed office on January 20.

Within days of being confirmed, Austin had called up Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on January 27 and had emphasised Pentagon’s commitment to the US-India Major Defence Partnership, observing that it is built upon “shared values” and a “common interest in ensuring the Indo-Pacific region remains free and open”.

This was a clear signal to counter China’s proactive and assertive actions in the Indo-Pacific, which has brought Indian and American militaries and political establishments closer in the last few years.

In fact, Austin’s visit, once confirmed, will be close on the heels of the first Quad meeting of the leaders — President Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japan’s PM Yoshihide Suga and Australian PM Scott Morrison — on March 12, sources said.

In the January 27 call to Singh, Austin had noted the “great strides” made in the US-India defence relationship, and had pledged to work collaboratively with the Defence Minister to sustain progress.

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