Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is traveling to India to underscore the enduring U.S. commitment to its strategic partner, Defense Department officials said.
The four-day trip marks the first time a cabinet member from the current administration has visited India, where Mattis will meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and newly appointed Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
The secretary also will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the India Gate to recognize the valor and the heroism of 82,000 Indian soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II in the fight against militarism.
En route to India, Mattis told reporters traveling with him that the United States and India are two great democracies with shared common goals that make them natural partners.
"We have a historic opportunity to set a refreshed partnership between our nations, and it's a partnership built on respect, trust, and the shared values of democracy, freedom of expression and human dignity," he said. "And our vision aims to support an open, just and rules-based global order."
The secretary said he would discuss with Modi’s government joint efforts to advance common goals through a broader strategic exchange of views, "basically putting meat on the structure, … not only in terms of U.S.-India partnership, but how the United States and India can work together to build partnerships across the region."
India, from the U.S. perspective, is "clearly a pillar of regional stability and security," Mattis said. "We share a common vision for a peaceful and prosperous vision in the Indo-Pacific region, one that's based on that strong, rules-based international order, and the peaceful resolution of disputes and territorial integrity," he added.
The U.S.-India defense cooperation has steadily expanded in recent years, underpinned by common objectives and goals in the region, the secretary said, adding that such cooperation will benefit both economies while reducing any legacy or trust issues between the two democracies.
DoD's designation of India as a major defense partner reflects the progress made in strengthening joint security cooperation, Mattis noted.
"My goal on this trip is to promote pragmatic progress between us and our defense partnership, delivering defense interoperability, aligned with Prime Minister Modi and President [Donald J.] Trump's direction," Mattis said, adding that in the wide-ranging new relationship, security is one of the key strategic pillars.
"This is a historic opportunity for our two democracies, a time of strategic convergence," he said. "We will be working on this trip and in the future to bring our bureaucracies up to speed by underlining our commonalities in our approaches and our objectives."
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)