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India, US agree to give more strategic depth to relationship

September 11, 2008 15:56 IST

India and the US have agreed on giving more strategic depth to their defence cooperation and New Delhi [Images] has assured Washington that American armament companies will have a level playing field in the country.

Winding up his four day key visit to the United States, the first by a high-ranking Indian politician as the American Congress is poised to take up for final approval, the Indo-US nuclear accord, Defence Minister A K Antony said the two countries held deep discussions on issues like Afghanistan, military to military cooperation and problems connected with military technology transfer from the US.

Though he said the nuclear deal was not a central part of his agenda in talks with Pentagon, Antony said that he had been told by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images] that she was confident of getting the Indo-US deal approved this year.

The Defence Minister, who was talking to reporters on the sidelines of a function held in his honour by the Indian community in Washington, said he had thanked the US administration for its help in the waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna [Images].

Antony did not elaborate on problems being faced on technology transfer, however the two countries are yet to ratify the crucial end users agreement under which US has the right of physical verification of weapon systems transferred. The failure to conclude such an agreement had recently led to delay in delivery of three customised VVIP Boeing executive jets to India.

Antony insisted that his visit had nothing to do with defence procurements, but maintained that American companies will have a level playing field in Indian military orders.

Antony's remarks assume significance as US armaments majors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and others are vying for multi-billion dollars contracts in India for sale of helicopters, fighters, radars, missiles, and other advanced weapons.

However, the minister said that India had its own weapon procurement procedures. "We have no preference and are not against anybody. American companies will get a level playing field. They have been showing a lot of interest. "Everything is transparent. Nothing is secretive and there is no scope for manipulation," Antony said expressing that weapon requirements were decided  by the armed forces and the trials also held by them.

He said in his discussions in Pentagon, the developments in Afghanistan and India' s security concerns in the neighbourhood were in sharp focus. "Developments in Afghanistan are a source of concern. We are not directly involved militarily, but we want situation to improve there. The terrorist and extremist elements should not resurrect there," he said.

Resurgence of  Taliban [Images] is not in the larger interest of India and its neighbourhood. Their challenge has to be met, the Defence Minister said.

Antony refused to be drawn out on blame game over the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul. "It was a greatest shock to us but I am not here in Washington to make any kind of a provocative attack statements against our neighbours. This is not a proper place to say that...When we are outside why should we unnecessarily provoke our neighbours.... Pakistan is in a transition. We  know what is happening across the border," Antony said.

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