Ruling out the possibility of establishing a military base or having permanent boots on the ground in Maldives, a top Barack Obama administration official has said that the United States has consulted India on the Status of Forces Agreement, which it is currently negotiating with the island nation.
"We do not have any plans to have a military presence in Maldives," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake told PTI in an interview, adding that SOFA is an effort to provide a framework to the ongoing joint military exercises the US has with Maldives.
"I want to reassure everybody that this SOFA does not imply some new uptick in military co-operation or certainly does not apply any new military presence. It would just be to support our ongoing activities," Blake said when asked about the concerns being raised in both India and Sri Lanka after a Maldivian news website reported about it and posted an alleged leaked copy of the draft SOFA agreement.
Blake could not verify the authenticity of the alleged draft of the SOFA agreement posted by a Maldivian news website.
"I haven't seen the draft agreement. So I can't comment. But we are in the process of negotiating one now. These are standard text round the world, nothing very secret about them," he said.
"I do not foresee that this is going to be a difficult negotiation (with Maldives). These are the things we do with partners around the world," he said, adding that it should be signed very soon.
According to an unverified draft copy of the SOFA agreement, Maldives would allow US forces access to ship bunkering facilities, as well as sea ports and other facilities in the Indian Ocean island nation.
"I would like to reassure all our friends in India, what it is and what it isn't. We have status of forces agreements with more than 100 nations around the world. And these are basically agreements we have with partners where we have significant military activities, typically exercises," he said.
"But it does not in any way signify an expansion of our military presence or some major new development in the US-Maldivian military co-operation. It's simply more of a framework to provide for (ongoing) co-operation," Blake said.
"Yes," Blake said when asked if the US has been consulting India on SOFA with Maldives.
"We always try to be transparent with India about everything that we are doing in South Asia. But certainly on Maldives, we always wanted to be transparent on our military activities," he said.