United States’ Secretary of Defense Lloyd James Austin met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday evening, hours after he landed in India. Austin, who is on a three-day visit to the country, is the first senior US government official to arrive in India since Joe Biden took over as the president of the country.

“Prime Minister outlined his vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries and emphasized the important role of bilateral defence cooperation in India-US ties,” an official statement from Modi’s office said on the meeting.

Austin reiterated the US government’s continued commitment towards strengthening the bilateral defence relations between the two countries, the statement said. “He expressed US’s strong desire to further enhance the strategic partnership for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” it added.

Modi tweeted about the meeting too, saying that the two countries were committed to “strategic partnership”.

Austin landed in India earlier on Friday evening. This is the second leg of his Asia tour. Austin and United States Secretary of State Blinken visited South Korea and Japan earlier this week.

Ahead of Austin’s visit to India, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on March 17 asked him to “raise democracy and human rights concerns” during discussions with the Union government. Austin is scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval during his visit.

A letter from US Senator Bob Menendez, the committee chairperson, took note of the farmers’ protest against the three new agriculture laws and said that the government’s “crackdown” on them and “corresponding intimidation of journalists and government critics only underscores the deteriorating situation of democracy in India”.

The letter also made a mention of India’s downgrade in status in the recent Freedom House report. India’s status on Freedom House’s report on political rights and civil liberties was lowered to “partly free” in the United States government-funded non-governmental organisation’s annual Freedom in the World rankings. In 2020, the organisation’s report ranked India as “free”.