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Antony to foray into defence diplomacy


New Delhi : Defence Minister A.K. Antony is to embark on a series of foreign tours, his first since assuming office seven months ago, to engage India's littoral neighbours and a strategic ally.

The first of these tours will be to Singapore June 1-3 to participate in the sixth edition of the Shangri La dialogue.

The Shangri La dialogue, organised by Singapore's International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), brings together 26 countries including Australia, Britain Canada, China, France, Germany, New Zealand, Pakistan, and the US, to analyse the strategic security scenario in the Southeast Asian region.

During the visit, Antony is likely to hold discussions with his counterparts from other countries, as also with Singapore officials on concluding a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on ramping up military cooperation between the two countries.

In July-August, Antony plans to visit Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and possibly South Korea too.

"We have suggested some dates and are awaiting conformation," an official said, adding it was not immediately clear whether the visits would be back-to-back or staggered.

Then, in October, Antony is likely to travel to Russia, a country on which India depends for 70 percent of its military hardware and which has been a long-time strategic ally.

"At the moment, no visits are planned to the US or China," the official noted.

"This is because Antony is unlike most ministers. Rather than travel abroad, he would prefer to deal with the problems of the Indian armed forces," the official added.

Antony himself made a reference to this during his visit to the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir that has been the battleground of Indian and Pakistani troops for over two decades.

"Ever since I became the defence minister (seven months ago), I made a promise to myself that I would visit all the strategically important areas where our soldiers serve in extremely trying conditions. Only after this would I travel abroad," Antony told Indian Army officers and troops at the Siachen Base camp located at a height of 12,000 feet.