Panetta looking forward to visit India, says official

Washington: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who views Indo-US ties as one of the most important bilateral relationships, is looking forward to travel to India in not too distant future, a top Pentagon official said today.

"I know Secretary Panetta looks forward to having direct engagement with the Indian Defence Minister A K Antony so that he can talk directly to him about the range of bilateral issues that we have," Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence Robert Scher told PTI.

No date has been determined yet on Defence Secretary Panetta`s visit to India. "Nothing firmly scheduled, but it`s my clear intent to make it work in not too distant future," he said.

"Let me assure you that I know personally that the Secretary of Defence sees the Indian relationship as one of the most important bilateral relationships that we have with any country," Scher said.

"He looks forward to going to India, hopefully in the not too distant future to talk about this directly," Scher said.

Though he is yet to make his trip to India as the Defence Secretary, Panetta had visited India as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and had played a key role in improving intelligence co-operation between the two countries.

Responding to questions, Scher also appreciated India`s role in Afghanistan and said New Delhi can play an important role in the stability and security of the war-torn country.

"Most importantly India`s cooperation with Afghanistan is a bilateral issue between the two governments. But I do think, and we have conversation with the Government of India, we understand that India can and will play an important role in the stability and security of Afghanistan," he said when asked about the recent India-Afghan Strategic partnership agreement.