Bush team confident Congress will approve India n-deal: Antony

September 11th, 2008 - 11:15 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghWashington, Sep 11 (IANS) The Bush administration appears confident of winning Congressional approval for the India-US civil nuclear deal, according to Defence Minister A.K. Antony who has just wrapped up a four-day visit to the US.”I think they are confident,” said Antony who met his counterpart Robert Gates as well as President George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Rice Condoleezza Rice amid hectic US efforts to clear the last hurdle in the way of the deal.

But Antony hastened to add that it was only an assumption on his part as the nuclear deal was not part of his agenda and the purpose of his visit was mainly defence cooperation though he did discuss the nuclear accord with all the three top US officials.

“How can I ignore such an important initiative,” Antony told the Indian media at the end of the first high-level visit from India since the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) gave India a waiver for nuclear trade.

The minister denied that he had brought a letter from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for Bush. “That’s not correct,” he said. Nor had the so-called ’secret letter’ from State Department to Congress, saying the US could immediately stop nuclear cooperation in case India conducted a nuclear test, come up for discussion.

Asked what would be the fate of the nuclear deal if it did not fructify before the end of Bush’s presidency in January, Antony quipped: “I am not a prophet of doom”.

The minister said he had “very useful and cordial talks” with Gates, Rice and Hadley on defence relations and he had found all round warmth for India.

The discussions focused on four key areas: regional security situation, including Afghanistan; security concerns of India in the neighbourhood; and some problems relating to export of high technology items.

The US, he said, had not asked for any logistic support in Afghanistan. India’s involvement there was essentially in reconstruction and redevelopment.

The resurgence of the Taliban is neither in the interest of India nor of peace. But meeting the challenge of terrorism successfully needed the cooperation of the people of Pakistan, the minister said.

His visit, Antony said, had nothing do with defence procurement and the issue was discussed only generally. He had assured Washington that American companies will get a level playing field as India has no preferences or objections to anyone, and would go in for the best equipment in a transparent fashion.

Asked about plans to buy 126 single multi-role light combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force, Antony pointed out that two US companies were among six major suppliers bidding for the $10 billion deal and they all know that “we want the best equipment”.

The requirements were set by the services and the government only initiated the procurement process. However, he said the choice of the aircraft will be decided by the next government.

Antony led a high-powered delegation, including defence secretary Vijay Singh and three senior officers from the army, navy and air force on his first visit to the US as defence minister. The last time an Indian defence minister visited the US was in June 2005, when Pranab Mukherjee held the portfolio.

Antony, whose first engagement in the US was with the Indian American community, said almost two million of them were involved in projecting the cause of India. He wished them well and hoped they would do well in the emerging scenario.

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