Washington, Nov 18: In a major goof-up, new US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta clubbed India and China, describing them as emerging "threats", but his office quickly retracted the remarks, saying Washington strongly values close ties with New Delhi.
Panetta put his foot in the mouth as he departed from prepared text during a speech at a shipyard in Connecticut, where he said, "we face the threats from rising powers - China, India, others - that we have to always be aware of and try to make sure that we always have sufficient force protection out there in the Pacific to make sure they know we're never going anywhere."
The Defence Secretary's comments came at an awkward moment just when President Barack Obama met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the two leaders agreed to boost ties not only bilaterally but at multilateral level also.
The Pentagon chief, who spoke to the workers at the shipyard which builds Nuclear attack submarines, described the array of threats to the US as coming from Iran, North Korea and cyber attacks.
But the former CIA chief, who recently publicly said that he was looking forward to visit India, strayed from the known US foreign policy stand by adding China and India to the list of countries posing security dangers that US would need to make clear to these powers.
However, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little was quick to clarify Panetta's remarks, saying the US strongly values a close relationship with India and sees it as a nation of increasing prominence and power.
"The Secretary strongly values a close military relationship with India, which he sees as a nation of increasing prominence and power. He doesn't view India as a threat," Little told PTI.