US hopeful India will get n-deal done: Gates

February 26th, 2008 - 7:29 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Feb 26 (IANS) The US was hopeful of completing the nuclear deal with India, visiting Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday even as he sought to develop defence ties independent of the nuclear initiative. “We are certainly hopeful that India can get done what it needs to do, so that we can do what we need to do and get the nuclear agreement completed,” Gates, who began his two-day visit here, told reporters amid continuing uncertainty about the future of the deal.

“The civil nuclear initiative is a very good deal for both India and the US,” he underlined.

Gates, however, stressed that the US was committed to expanding military-to-military and defence trade with India regardless of the outcome of the nuclear deal.

“I am here independent of the civil nuclear deal. I am here to explore how we can expand military-to-military relations between India and the US,” Gates said after taking a brief tour of the historic Humayun’s Tomb.

“We have an ambitious agenda of military-to-military exercises and interactions that are increasing in size and sophistication,” he said. He was alluding to a joint exercise by India’s navy with the US in the Bay of Bengal, along with Japan, Australia and Singapore.

“I am impressed that India-US defence relations have grown since the defence framework agreement was signed in 2005,” he said.

“We now have a broad range of interactions. I am looking at ways to expand this relationship,” he said.

“India is the world’s largest democracy. It is in India’s interest to develop this relationship as much as it is in US’s interest,” Gates replied when asked whether the failure of the nuclear deal would affect India-US ties.

“I gave up forecasting the future when I left the CIA,” he replied when asked whether the same deal could be done later if it does not go through this year.

Gates will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and hold talks with them on a wide spectrum of issues related to India-US relations.

In his discussions with the Indian side, Gates will try to push American bids for one of India’s biggest ever arms contracts estimated to be over $10 billion.

His visit comes ahead of a March 3 deadline for bids on the contract for 126 fighters for which US companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co. are competing with Russian and European rivals.

The Indian government is making a last-ditch push for the nuclear deal that aims at the resumption of global nuclear trade with India after a gap of nearly three decades. In her maiden address to the joint session of parliament, President Pratibha Patil Monday said India was hopeful of achieving civil nuclear cooperation with the US and other friendly countries.

“It is our hope that civil nuclear cooperation with the US and other friendly countries will become possible,” Patil said.

Indian nuclear officials are holding talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna to finalise a safeguards pact, a key step towards implementing the nuclear deal. The safeguards pact has to, however, pass muster with the Left parties before the government can proceed with the nuclear deal.

Ultimately, the government will have to take a political call on pushing the deal through, a move that may risk its very survival, as its Left allies appear to be in no mood to dilute its opposition to the deal that it fears will make India subservient to the US strategic interests.

With the clock ticking away, India needs to act fast to wrap up the IAEA pact and get the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to change its guidelines by May so that the deal can be ratified by the US Congress by July-end after which it gets busy with pressing legislation ahead of the November presidential elections.

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