Tuesday, October 26, 2010

India, U.S. aim to lift defence ties during Obama trip

By Krittivas Mukherjee NEW DELHI | Tue Oct 26, 2010 1:59pm IST NEW DELHI (Reuters) - When U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in India next month, he will face a key challenge of boosting defence ties that are on the upswing but mired by political suspicion over pandering to Washington's interests. Underlying the visit will be lobbying for billions of dollars in contracts to overhaul India's mostly Russian-supplied military, a relic of their Cold War era partnership. Those orders include a $11 billion deal for 126 fighter jets that could benefit U.S.' Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. France's Dassault, Russia's MiG-35, Sweden's Saab and the Eurofighter Typhoon are also competing. But Washington faces a host of hurdles, including Indian worries that signing defence pacts which are necessary for the U.S. arms sales to go through may land New Delhi into a wider entanglement with the U.S. military. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reached out to Washington over his last six years in powers, many within his own Congress party as well as his parliamentary allies are reluctant to embrace these pacts, pending over three years. "India is weighing to see if all these agreements are to give a wider room to manoeuvre for U.S. forces in the region," said Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor at Hindu Newspaper in Delhi. "There is a mismatch in expectations from the relationship. India wants weapons sales as a transactional relationship, the U.S. is seeking exclusivity in partnership," he said, referring to any U.S. desire to make the Indian military an active element in its strategic expansion in the region. A KPMG report this month said the misgivings over the pacts were "roadblocks" in sustaining the momentum in the relationship. Obama's challenge is not as much in winning contracts as it is in lifting ties to a long-term military partnership in a region where Washington is now fighting a war and seeking ways to contain China's rise. And the defence pacts Washington wants India to sign underscore some of those challenges. One pact is the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), which would allow American military to use Indian facilities for operations like refueling. Indians fear India could be used as a launching pad for military operations in the region. Two other pacts are required under US domestic laws to transfer sensitive defence technology. India fears the military will have to share communications secrets with the United States. "These agreements need wider consultation. They have various implications," an Indian defence ministry official told Reuters. DEVELOPING TIES Once on the opposite sides of the Cold War, India and the United States began warming up to each other about a decade back, the paradigm shift coming with a 2008 civil nuclear deal that then President Bush pushed to end India's nuclear isolation.

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