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US defence secretary Lloyd Austin set to visit India later this month

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NEW DELHI: US defence secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to visit New Delhi this month, in what could be the first visit by a member of US President Joe Biden‘s administration, two people familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

Austin’s visit could take place in the second half of March and is expected be part of a larger swing through Indo-Pacific region countries.

This will also be the first in person visit from a cabinet member of the new Biden administration that had its swearing in ceremony in January.

The visit is expected to be taking place as efforts are on to get the leaders of the US, India, Japan and Australia together for a summit meeting of Quad leaders i.e. US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. According to news reports, the meeting of Quad leaders could take place as early as next week.

Talking to reporters on Friday, Morrison had confirmed plans of the Quad leaders meeting being in the works. “I am looking forward to that first gathering of Quad leaders. It will be the first-ever gathering of Quad leaders. I already had bilateral discussions with [Indian PM] Narendra Modi and [Japanese PM] Yoshihide Suga, the PM of Japan and PM of India,” he had said.

The foreign ministers of the four Quad countries had met in a virtual meeting last month.

India and the US share close defence cooperation with Washington authorising over $20 billion in defence sales to India.

The US state department last week said, “It’s these offers of advanced US defence platforms that demonstrate our commitment to India’s security and sovereignty. It demonstrates our commitment to that global, comprehensive, strategic partnership.”

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