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US on damage control mode after Hagel's India outburst

February 28, 2013 17:33 IST

In a damage control exercise after Chuck Hagel's comments on India's role in Afghanistan kicked up a storm, the Pentagon on Thursday said the new Defence Secretary is "strongly committed" to a strategic partnership with India and to fostering an "even closer" defence ties.

"Secretary Hagel is strongly committed to the US strategic partnership with India and to fostering an even closer defence relationship with India that builds upon the work of Secretary [Leon] Panetta, Deputy Secretary [Ashton] Carter, and their Indian counterparts," Pentagon spokesperson George Little told Washington Free Beacon.

"Secretary Hagel looks forward to working closely with Indian national security and defence officials," Little was quoted as saying.

Free Beacon, the right-wing online newspaper, had this week uploaded an unreleased speech given by Hagel in 2011 where he is seen being critical of India's role in Afghanistan.

In sharp contrast to US view on India's role in Afghanistan, Hagel has alleged that India has over the years "financed problems" for Pakistan in the war-torn country.

Hagel made these remarks at Oklahoma's CameronUniversity in 2011.

It sparked off a strong reaction from India which said such comments are 'contrary to the reality' of its unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghans.

Hagel, during the speech said, "India for some time has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border".

"And you can carry that into many dimensions, the point being [that] the tense, fragmented relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been there for many, many years," Hagel said.

Reacting to this, the Indian Embassy in Washington had said, "Such comments attributed to Senator Hagel, who has been a long-standing friend of India and a prominent votary of close India-US relations are contrary to the reality of India's unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghan people."

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