Panetta met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon on Tuesday and is scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary A.K. Antony on Wednesday. The top U.S. defense official is on a three-country tour that has already taken him to Singapore and Vietnam.
Panetta told the Indian officials that their country was “critical” to “promoting peace and stability in the region,” according to the department's own press shop, and spoke of “an increased Indian role in Afghanistan.”
The comments come at an inopportune time as U.S. relations with India's arch-rival, Pakistan, have hit new lows following the raid against Osama bin Laden's compound and the accidental killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers last year. The United States is currently negotiating with Pakistan to reopen NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, and played down Panetta's remarks to avoid further tensions.
Asked directly if Panetta had asked India for a deeper involvement in training the Afghan army and police, Kirby said the secretary “expressed gratitude for what they have done and — that his fervent hope that they'll continue to stay engaged in the region and in particular in helping Afghanistan as it moves forward.”