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Gates’ India Visit Aimed at Long-Term Relationship

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

NEW DELHI, Feb. 27, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wrapped up a two-day visit here today after talks with top officials that targeted the continued development of a long-term relationship with India.

“We’re not looking for quick results or big leaps forward, but rather a steady expansion of this relationship that leaves everybody comfortable,” Gates said during a roundtable with reporters this morning.

During the visit, Gates’ first to India, the secretary met with the country’s ministers of defense and external affairs, its prime minister and members of parliament with hopes of strengthening bilateral defense and security relationships that have become increasingly stronger in the past few years.

Gates said that his discussions with India’s leaders were positive and likeminded.

“I encountered only enthusiasm in all of the leaders here I talked to,” he said. “I think ... they see it as we do -- a long term enterprise by two sovereign states. We are mindful of India’s long tradition of non-alignment and are respectful of that, but I think there are a lot of opportunities to expand on this relationship, and I think that was the feeling on the part of the Indian leaders that I met with, as well.”

Gates talked with Indian leaders about the country’s expansive military modernization program under way. India has several billion-dollar deals in the works, and Gates said he would like to see defense trade expand between the two countries.

The secretary said he was pleased with India’s January $1 billion purchase of six C-130J Hercules aircraft from Lockheed Martin, a U.S. defense contractor. He also told Indian officials the United States is eager to bid on 126 multi-role combat aircraft for the country’s air force. The deal, estimated at about $10 billion, would be the world’s largest single external defense procurement in history, DoD officials believe.

“I indicated that we obviously are interested and believe we are very competitive in the selection of the new fighter, … and we ask no special treatment,” Gates said. “We simply are pleased to have a place at the table, and we believe that in a fair competition that we have a very good case to make.

“One of the virtues of the C-130 sale is that it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate not only the quality of our equipment, but the quality of the service and maintenance and follow-on activities that go with these sales. So we’re very encouraged, (but) we’re at the beginning of this process,” Gates said.

While the secretary did not discuss any new joint exercises between the two country’s militaries, he did discuss details of a logistics agreement that would allow expansion of their military-to-military relationship. The agreement is largely administrative in nature, detailing how the countries reimburse each other for expenses, such as fuel, during training.

Gates said he also talked with Indian officials about the so-called 123 Agreement, which would bring into effect the U.S-India civilian nuclear deal that would allow the U.S. to send nuclear fuel and technology to India.

Gates said the deal is important and that time is running out to get it before the U.S. Congress. The Indian government is in negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, a key step in completing the agreement.

“The clock is ticking in terms of how much time is available to get all the different aspects of this agreement implemented,” Gates said. “The real key is providing time for … our Senate to ratify the final arrangements. And with this being an election year, there is an open question about how long the senate will be in session beyond this summer.”

Gates said he thinks the agreement serves the best interests of both countries and that it “has positive global consequences, as well.”

When questioned about the U.S.’s overall intentions in Asia at a time when China is also strengthening its ties in the region, the secretary said that the U.S. relationship with India is not influenced by India’s neighbor on the eastern border.

“I don’t see our improving military relationships in the region in the context of any other country, including China,” Gates said. “These expanding relationships don’t necessarily have to be directed to anybody. They are a set of bilateral relationships that are aimed at improving our coordination and the closeness of our relationships for a variety of reasons, including those that I’ve just indicated.”

Gates complimented India’s efforts in Afghanistan. He said that India spends about $800 million in economic and civic reconstruction efforts there. The subject of increasing India’s contribution there did not come up in the meetings, Gates said.

Gates said he also talked briefly about missile defense. He said talks on the subject are in their “very early stage” and that they focused on conducting a joint analysis of what India’s missile defense needs are and how the United States could cooperate.

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Travels with Gates
State Department background note on India
Photo Essay

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