Panetta pays respects at India Gate

Panetta and Antony are likely to discuss India`s emerging role in the bilateral defence relationship.

New Delhi: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is here on a two-day official visit, paid his respects to the Unknown Soldier at India Gate on Wednesday, before heading for talks with Defence Minister AK Antony.

Panetta and Antony are likely to discuss India`s emerging role in the bilateral defence relationship.

Panetta will also explain to allies and partners the new US military strategy in Asia Pacific.

Panetta will encourage India to take a more active role in Afghanistan as international forces draw down after a decade of war, US officials said.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged the longstanding rivalry between India and Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, but insisted that both countries had an interest in working with the international community to ensure stability in Kabul.

India has a long history of involvement in the country and its activities have often been viewed suspiciously by Pakistan, which is concerned about being diplomatically encircled by its longtime enemy.

On Tuesday, Panetta met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and is believed to have discussed ways to deepen US-India defence ties.
Recently, Antony and Panetta had expressed concern regarding China`s growing military budget and their belligerent behaviour in the South China Sea.

While a recently issued US report on China`s military power avoided the tendency of earlier documents "toward hyperventilating about China, the strategic guidance released in January heightened Beijing`s concerns.
The document lumped China and Iran in the same category as potential US adversaries and also portrayed India as if it were helping to counterbalance China`s military power.

President Barack Obama`s administration insists that the shift in focus is not aimed at any one country, thus Panetta will have to watch his language in countries like Singapore and Vietnam to avoid heightening Beijing`s concerns that the renewed US strategic focus on Asia seeks to contain China`s rise as a global power.

The Pentagon is under orders to cut planned defense spending by 487 billion dollars over the next decade. An additional round of cuts due in January will take another 500 billion dollars over a decade unless Congress acts to stop the reductions by raising revenue or making cuts elsewhere in the US budget.