New Delhi June 24, 2005 7:43:11 PM IST
New Delhi, June 24 : Concerns about the reliability of the US as an arms supplier and joint efforts to develop military hardware and technology will be on the agenda during Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee's four-day visit to the US beginning Saturday.
Mukherjee's visit, which will set the stage for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's trip to the US next month, figured in discussions at a two-and-a-half hour meeting here Friday of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) presided over by Manmohan Singh.
After the meeting, Mukherjee told reporters that no deals for purchasing military hardware were on his agenda and clarified his US visit was aimed at expanding the scope of bilateral relations.
"I am not going with a shopping list. This is a visit by an Indian defence minister to the US after a long time," he said in response to a question on the US offer to sell F-16 fighter jets to India.
The offer was made soon after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited India in March. In recent weeks, Washington has sent several senior officials to New Delhi to push its military hardware to the Indian armed forces.Senior officials of the defence ministry told reporters broad policy issues an increased cooperation between the defence establishments of the two countries were likely to figure in Mukherjee's discussions with US officials.
"US-India relations have been showing an upward trend and defence ties have played a large role in these relations," said an official. "This visit will build on the existing cooperation."
The text of a "Research, Development, Test and Evaluation agreement" that will facilitate cooperation between India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the US Department of Defence is likely to be finalised during Mukherjee's visit.This pact will be a follow-up to the Master Information Exchange Agreement signed by the two sides last year to ensure the secrecy of data exchanged by their defence research establishments."
The US has some of the world's most advanced military technologies. If it is willing to work together in technology, including research and development, this needs to be explored," said an official. Mukherjee's delegation will include Defence Secretary Ajai Vikram Singh, Defence Production Secretary Shekhar Dutta and senior DRDO officials. Though the US has offered hi-tech hardware like the F-16 and F-18 jets to India, concerns remain in the security establishment here about its reliability as a arms supplier, particulary American laws related to sanctions.
To strengthen business ties, Mukherjee will address top American CEOs at a roundtable organised by the Indian embassy in Washington Monday. A 14-member business delegation from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) will also participate in this interface between Indian and American business.
The FICCI delegation, which will leave for Washington Sunday, will travel to Virginia and Maryland to formalise business partnerships between Indian and US companies in defence-related equipment and supplies.The business delegation, led by V.R.S. Natarjan, chairman of Bangalore-based Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML), comprises representatives of leading private and public sector defence majors like Ashok Baweja, chairman of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, and Y. Gopal Rao, chairman of Bharat Electronics Ltd. They will meet senior officials of the US Department of Commerce, State Department and Pentagon June 28.
Virginia is a major centre in the US for large and medium-sized companies in the defence sector.