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December 4, 2001
1910 IST

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India, US agree to boost defence ties

Josy Joseph in New Delhi

India and the United States on Tuesday agreed on several steps to boost defence cooperation in diverse areas, including joint exercises, anti-terrorist operations, defence supply and defence production and research.

The decisions were taken at the end of a two-day long meeting of the Defence Policy Group, that the two sides said had "imparted a new momentum to the work of creating a comprehensive, deep and mutually beneficial defence relationship between the countries".

The DPG was co-chaired by Defence Secretary Yogendra Narain and the US Under Secretary for Policy in the Department of Defence, Douglas Feith.

Narain said the discussions had "further cemented defence and strategic relations" between India and the US, and would help in establishing an "enduring friendship".

Feith said Washington considered US-India relations important not just in the light of the ongoing war against terrorism, but also because both were among world's largest democracies. "Ties between the two countries are an important element in promoting stability," he said.

He said the US had invited India to "briefings that we are giving friends" on the controversial National Missile Defence system and also to witness some future NMD exercises.

He said Kashmir was not discussed specifically. However, the two sides would exchange expertise and conduct joint exercises to strengthen anti-terrorists fronts.

Narain said there were some technological proposals to assist India's anti-terrorism efforts, but did not specify if the US had offered to give India unmanned aerial vehicles and sensors for checking infiltration along the Line of Control.

A joint statement said the two sides agreed that the Executive Steering Group of the three armed forces -- chaired by vice chiefs of India's defence services and their counterparts in the US Pacific Command -- would meet before the end of February 2002. The ESG would "plan and review military-to-military cooperation and oversee implementation of the visits, exercises, and training programmes".

The statement said the primary areas of focus for the three ESGs would be: "Training for combined humanitarian airlift, combined special operations training, small unit ground/air exercises, naval joint personnel exchange and familiarisation and combined training exercises between the US Marines and their Indian counterparts."

Stressing on the importance of a "stable, long-term defence supply relationship as part of the overall strategic cooperation between India and the United States", the two sides agreed to establish a "Security Cooperation Group" to manage defence supply relationship between New Delhi and Washington.

Narain said the US had already cleared applications from seven American firms for supplying military equipment to India. "Since the waiver of sanctions, a number of applications for export licenses have been approved by the US Departments of State and Defence and are in the process of notification to Congress," the statement said.

"The US also agreed to review India's acquisition priorities, including engines and systems for Light Combat Aircraft, radars, multi-mission maritime aircraft, components for jet trainers and high performance jet engines," the statement said.

The DPG agreed that the Joint Technical Group would meet in February-March 2002 to discuss the "promotion of bilateral ties in the field of defence production and research".

The JTG was one of the two important components of the DPG, the other being the Military Cooperation Group, which discussed the specifics of military-to-military contacts, including joint exercises.

During the DPG meeting, both the countries also agreed that the US joint staff and Indian chief of integrated defence staff would meet in the spring of 2002, before the next DPG, and "regularly thereafter to discuss tri-services institutions, military planning, and tri-service doctrine".

A new "structured dialogue between the US Defence Department's Office of Net Assessment and its Indian counterpart would develop exchanges between the defence research and analyses communities in both the countries".

The DPG noted that a "strengthened bilateral relationship would assist both the countries to counter threats such as the spread of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, narcotics trafficking and piracy".

The DPG would meet next in May 2002, on an accelerated schedule, the statement said.

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