US hopeful of n-deal, focuses on widening fence ties

February 26th, 2008 - 10:01 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Feb 26 (IANS) The US Tuesday said it is hopeful that India will do what is required to complete the civil nuclear deal even as it sought to expand defence ties with New Delhi regardless of the fate of the nuclear initiative. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and told them about the US’ readiness to complete the nuclear deal after India wraps up its safeguards pact with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a change in guidelines by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

“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 over the future of the deal.

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

Gates told them matter-of-factly about the need for India to conclude the next steps so that the deal can be ratified by the US Congress before July-end before the summer recess, official sources told IANS.

Gates, however, was tactful enough not to set any deadline but just outlined pressures on the US Congress in the coming months in the context of the US presidential polls later this year, the source said.

Manmohan Singh told Gates that his government was still hopeful of completing the nuclear deal, but did not commit to any deadline.

Gates’ visit comes a day after President Pratibha Patil, addressing a joint session of the parliament, said India was hopeful of achieving civil nuclear cooperation with the US and other friendly countries.

Gates also discussed the US’ desire to expand defence ties with India across the spectrum, including joint military exercises and more defence-related ties between the two sides.

He also discussed the proposed logistics support agreement aimed at improving inter-operability between the armed forces of the two sides.

The nuclear deal and the logistics pact are fiercely opposed by the Leftist allies of the Indian government who claim that any such move will bring India into the circle of the US’ strategic interests in the region.

Gates will meet senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani Wednesday in yet another effort by the US administration to persuade India’s chief opposition party, which has expressed reservations about the nuclear deal, to support the nuclear initiative.

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.

The visit by the US official comes at a time when Indian nuclear officials are holding talks with the 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.

Gates 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 last year.

Gates stressed that he didn’t see any risk for the US in enhancing its defence ties with India on a day when New Delhi tested a missile from an underwater site.

“We have to deal with the world as we find it,” he said. “It’s in our interest to develop this relationship just as it is in the Indians’ interest. I don’t think there’s risk, particularly, from our standpoint in doing that,” Gates replied when asked whether the failure of the nuclear deal would affect India-US ties.

“I am impressed that India-US defence relations have grown since the defence framework agreement was signed in 2005. I am looking at ways to expand this relationship,” he said.

“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 Defence Minister A.K. Antony Wednesday and discuss with him a wide spectrum of issues related to India-US defence relations. He is expected 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.

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