Saturday, January 24, 2015

Obama's India Trip-Nuclear, Defense and Arms Deal to be finalised

Stage is set for US President's maiden appearance in India's Republic Day Celebration. During this visit scores of the agreements are to be signed between two countries

Ahead of US President Barack Obama's arrival in India, a specific US demand seeking "flag rights in perpetuity" for any material or equipment used in a US-built reactor has thrown, to use an American expression, a monkey wrench into the nuclear contact group meeting underway in London.

It is learnt that it is the main sticking point preventing the two sides from announcing successful conclusion of the talks, something which both the sides wanted to achieve as the main takeaway from the visit. This was even as some progress was made over the liability issue.

India and the US will sign a new defence framework during President Barack Obama's visit to New Delhi on the Republic Day, but the two mega purchases for Chinook heavy lift and Apache attack helicopters will have to wait for some more time.

The defense acquisition council had cleared the purchase worth over $2.5 billion but the final stamp of approval is still awaited from the Cabinet committee on security.

Sources said the proposals are yet to be cleared by the finance ministry before it is placed before the Cabinet. An official said no arms contract will be signed during the presidential visit.

The rapprochement, after the estrangement following the

 1998 Pokhran-II tests, led to the first 10-year Indo-US defence framework in 2005. It promised a lot, from collaboration on multinational operations in their "common interest" to ballistic missile defence. But not everything translated into reality.

The framework did lead to arms deals, combat exercises, intelligence-sharing and counter-terror cooperation. The momentum slowed with A K Antony, UPA defence minister for eight years, blocking a full strategic clinch.

The military ardour will be reinvigorated with the signing of the new 10-year framework during Obama's visit. It'll be "more ambitious" than the earlier one, but won't impinge on India's strategic autonomy. It'll be "a statement of intent", charting out the road to boost defence ties. From stepped-up maritime security collaboration in the Asia-Pacific, intelligence-sharing, drive against terror and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to increasing the scope of joint exercises, it'll have all.

"But it's not a treaty binding on either side," said an official. India will upgrade its high-end Malabar naval exercise with America, both looking at including others like Japan and Australia more often. Despite its worries over China, India doesn't want to act as "linchpin" in the "rebalance" of US military forces towards the Asia-Pacific.