Gates calls for closer defense ties to India

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NEW DELHI (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates appealed Tuesday for closer military cooperation between America and India to bring stability to South Asia.

In an opinion piece published in The Times of India ahead of his visit here, Gates said the two nations have been drawn together by their shared values and should push for even greater cooperation in confronting new security threats.

“We must seize these opportunities because the peace and security of South Asia is critical not just to this region, but also to the entire international community,” he wrote.

Gates was scheduled to arrive in India on Tuesday afternoon for a two-day visit that would include meetings with the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister.

The visit was expected to focus on regional security, Afghanistan and the tense relations between India and Pakistan.

Indian government officials declined to comment on Gates’ visit, which comes as India ponders whether to buy scores of fighter aircraft, as well as other expensive hardware, from U.S. military contractors.

“There are also a lot of other defense acquisitions that are on the table,” Lalit Mansingh, former Indian ambassador to the United States, said, adding that India was also interested in hearing of U.S. progress in fighting Islamic militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It will be the first high-level talks between the two nations since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was honored at the White House in November at the Obama administration’s first state dinner.

The Indian and U.S. militaries conduct joint military exercises and regular exchanges, and India is a big client for U.S. arms dealers.

The United States has been trying to lower tensions between India and Pakistan to free up both nation’s military and economic resources. India, with its emerging economy, could be an important regional power in the U.S. view, while Pakistan could be a stronger bulwark against Muslim extremism.