NEW DELHI, June 6: Pentagon chief Leon Panetta vowed on Wednesday to expand defence ties between India and the United States, saying New Delhi was a `linchpin’ in a new US military strategy focused on Asia.

At a think-tank in the Indian capital, Me Panetta said that military ties had dramatically improved over the past decade. But he said more work was needed to ensure the two countries could safeguard the `crossroads’ of the global economy spanning the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific.

“For this relationship to truly provide security for this region and for the world, we will need to deepen our defence and security cooperation.

“This is why I have come to India,” Mr Panetta told an audience at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

Having overcome suspicions from the Cold War-era, “our two nations I believe have finally and irreversibly started a new chapter of our history”.Mr Panetta, who met Indian leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday, said he believed the relationship “can and should become more strategic, more practical, and more collaborative.”

He said a new US strategy sought to “expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.”

“Defence cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy.”

Mr Panetta called for more joint research and production, expanding military exercises and for both countries to tackle legal dilemmas posed by space weapons and cyber warfare.

India favours improving military ties and buying weapons from the United States but does not want to become a full-fledged American ally, preferring a degree of breathing space, analysts say.

Ties with Pakistan

A day after Al Qaeda’s number two leader was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, Mr Panetta acknowledged that both India and the United States faced difficulties with Islamabad.

“Pakistan is a complicated relationship for both of our countries, but one that we must work to improve,” he said.

Mr Panetta said both the United States and India wanted to see China play a prominent role in the region.

“As the United States and India deepen our defence partnership with each other, both of us will also seek to strengthen our relations with China,” he said.

He hailed growing arms sales with India but said both countries needed to remove obstacles that were holding back defence trade and the transfer of technology.

“To realise the full potential of defence trade relations, we need to cut through the bureaucratic red tape on both sides,” he said.

Drone attacks Mr Panetta said that the US would continue to launch drone attacks against Al Qaeda in Pakistan despite complaints from Islamabad that the strikes violated its sovereignty. “We have made it very clear that we are going to continue to defend ourselves,” he said. “This is about our sovereignty as well,” he said, arguing that Al Qaeda militants who orchestrated the Sept 11 attacks on the United States were in Pakistan’s tribal areas

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