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Antony visits Pentagon, meets US defence secretary

September 10, 2008 10:36 IST

Indian Defence Minister A K Antony -- on his maiden visit to the United States – met  Defence Secretary Robert Gates in the Pentagon on Tuesday.  Antony was received with full ceremonial honours in the River Parade Field before engaging in over an hour-long discussion on bilateral, regional and international issues with Gates.

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Sources said that no major bilateral agreements vis-à-vis military sales or contracts were signed during the meeting, which was described as 'a goodwill visit'. Both Antony and Gates expressed satisfaction over the burgeoning defence ties between the two countries, including the regular joint exercises between the defence forces.

However, sources acknowledged that there was 'immense satisfaction' expressed by Gates and Antony over the Nuclear Suppliers Group giving India the green light to engage in nuclear trade. Both expressed hope that the agreement would soon be ratified by the US Congress before it adjourns for the year.

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Antony also discussed regional and international issues -- particularly the situation in Afghanistan -- with Gates, sources said.

Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen and Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian Embassy Raminder Singh Jassal were present at the meeting.

Antony was accompanied by Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, Eastern Army Commander Lieutenant General V K Singh, Air Officer (Personnel) Air Marshal S Mukherjee and Director General (Acquisitions) S K Sharma.

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Sharma had also accompanied then defence minister and now External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, when he visited the US over three years ago and met Gates' predecessor Donald Rumsfeld.

The three chiefs of the Indian defence forces also met their counterparts at the Pentagon. They reviewed the India-US defence relations and the successful joint exercises both sides had held over the past few years and discussed some of the future exercises and meetings, scheduled to be held next year.

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Later, Antony laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia and reviewed the changing of the guard.

On Wednesday, the defence minister is scheduled to meet National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley at the White House and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the State Department.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC