Indian prime minister Narendra Modi participating in the video conference with SAARC Leaders last week (Photo: Twitter)

THE US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has held a telephonic conversation with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and praised India’s COVID-19 initiative for SAARC countries, the Pentagon said.

The two leaders discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and underscored their commitment to close communication during this period in order to maintain momentum on initiatives that reinforce their comprehensive global partnership, the Pentagon said in a readout of the call.

“During the call, the two leaders also discussed bilateral defense priorities, including the ongoing regional cooperation and initiatives to enhance military-to-military engagement and defense trade,” it said.

Indian prime minister was widely praised for his leadership abilities when he proposed a ‘SAARC joint strategy’ to fight the coronavirus outbreak early this month.

The prime minister had reached out to the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) to chalk out a strong strategy to combat coronavirus outbreak and called for a discussion through video conferencing by the grouping’s leadership.

Esper expressed his appreciation for India’s leadership in coordinating COVID-19 related relief efforts among South Asian countries and conveyed his intent to visit India at the earliest opportunity, the Pentagon said.

In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Esper had postponed his scheduled travel to India this month.

He has been roped in by President Donald Trump to combat the coronavirus that has so far infected more than 13,000 Americans claimed 230 lives.