India, US hold talks to bolster defence ties
( dpa ) - India and the United States Wednesday held talks to enhance defence ties and said they will work on removing differences in connection with wide-ranging defence pacts to ensure greater military cooperation.
The discussions between US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Indian Defence Minister AK Antony in New Delhi also covered sales of US military hardware to India.
According to Indian defence officials, Gates held talks on the proposed Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the end-use verification of US defence equipment.
Under the LSA, India and US militaries propose to provide each other with logistic support, re-fuelling and berthing facilities for each others' warships and aircraft, spares and other services on a reimbursable or equal-value exchange basis.
Indian officials told the visiting delegation that New Delhi would require time to look at various aspects of the LSA. "The Defence Minister said that India would revert in due course after holding consultations," one official said on condition of anonymity.
The Indian government is taking time to decide on the pact, proposed by the US two years ago, as it has faced opposition from its communist partners who have already stalled the India-US civil nuclear deal.
He said India and US also resolved to iron out differences on certain clauses in the end-use verification agreement to which New Delhi had raised objections. Discussions were also held on the CISMOA, which is an accord to have common communication systems and codes for using US equipment.
The official said Gates "expressed satisfaction" about the defence engagement with India mentioning that Washington did not enjoy such wide-ranging defence ties with any other country.
Regarding sales of military hardware, Gates said Washington wanted a "level playing field" for US companies in India's purchase of 126 combat jets, estimated to be among the world's biggest defence deals worth over 10 billion dollars.
Two US companies, Lockheed and Boeing, are competing for the deal along with Russia's MiG-35, France's Dassault Rafale, Sweden's Saab KAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of British, German, Spanish and Italian companies.
Besides this, US companies are also trying to sell missiles, anti-missile systems, heavy and medium helicopters, electronic warfare systems, drones and other advanced military systems to India.
Gates' visit comes close on the heels of the Indian government clearing a 1.1-billion-dollar deal for the purchase of C-130J Hercules military transport planes, as well as acquiring warship USS Trenton (renamed INS Jalashwa) and six Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs).
India and the US, which had tense relations throughout the Cold War era, have witnessed a transformation of ties over the past few years and security analysts say growing defence cooperation, including joint military exercises, have enhanced relations.
Gates, who is on a week-long overseas trip, visited Australia and Indonesia before arriving in India.
Before embarking for Turkey on the next leg of his tour, the US official also met LK Advani, the leader of main opposition Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in connection with the India-US nuclear deal.
According to party sources, Gates sought to convince Advani, whose party is opposed to the draft of the deal, of the importance of finalizing the nuclear deal as soon as possible.
The US official has stressed the need for an early conclusion of the nuclear deal, saying that the nuclear pact would have "positive global consequences" besides serving the interests of both countries.