Washington:As US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta embarked on a nine-day trip to Asia to bring US allies up to speed on the new US Pacific-orientated defence strategy, officials highlighted the importance of US-India defence ties.

"India is the only country we mention in the defence strategic guidance as a partner. And we are really shifting to a point at which our defence interactions with India are becoming routine," a senior defence official told reporters in a briefing about the trip.

"The secretary has been eager to visit India since assuming his post last summer," the official said about Panetta's first trip to India in the first week of June on the last leg of his tour that will also take him to Singapore for the Shangri La Dialogue, an inter-governmental security forum of 28 Asia-Pacific states, and Vietnam.

"US-India defence ties are extremely important in a whole host of ways. Strategically, we see India as a partner with whom we have a lot of common interests and a lot of areas where we can work well together," the official said.

Panetta will also discuss defence trade with Indian leaders, as well as the implications of the strategic guidance for US-Indian military-to-military relations, the outcome of the NATO summit, and long-term trends in South Asia and the rest of the region, the official said.

"We're trying to have a relationship with India that is broad, strategic and continual," the official said.

"With India, we are getting to a place where this type of interaction is just part of the norm of the relationship, where we engage on a whole range of issues-strategic issues, cooperative issues and a whole range of cooperative issues," he said.

Besides meeting with top officials in New Delhi during his two day stay, "he'll be giving one major speech in India as well," the official said."Basically the core of what we are trying to do with the swing through Asia, is to give a comprehensive account to partners and everyone in the region about what the rebalance to the Asia/Pacific will mean in practice," he said.


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