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N-deal with India a game changer: US

By Lalit K Jha
February 20, 2010 12:41 IST
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Describing the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal as a game changer for bilateral ties, the Obama administration has said the remaining steps of the historic accord are expected to be completed in the next few months.
"The civil nuclear deal turned probably our most significant irritant in bilateral relations into an opportunity for cooperation. This has the potential to lead to billions of dollars worth of opportunities for American companies, and many thousands of jobs as a result of that," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, said.

"A few more steps are still required, and we expect them to be completed in the next few months," he said on Friday, addressing the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, while terming the nuclear deal as an important milestone in ties.

The area of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament is a field where there is a very different and more positive dynamic between the countries as a result of the civil nuclear deal, he said.

"Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh also shares the (US) President's far-reaching vision for a nuclear weapons-free world. Our broader challenge is to strengthen the global non-proliferation system and I think this is an area where the United States and India can work more closely as partners," he said.

"The Nuclear Security Summit President Obama will host in Washington in April, to which 43 nations have been invited and which we expect Prime Minister Singh will attend, provides an excellent opportunity to highlight this evolving partnership," Blake said.

A critical component of the strategic cooperation framework, Blake said, is counter-terrorism.

"You've seen our two countries cooperate more and more, particularly since the horrific November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which the Indians refer to as '26/11'," he said.

Blake said the September, 2009 visit of Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram, was highly successful and gave the Indian leader the opportunity to consult with senior officials in just about every US agency involved in the all-important challenge of battling terrorism.

"When Prime Minister Singh visited Washington in November the two leaders (Singh and Obama) stressed that our partnership in counter-terrorism efforts is 'indispensable for global peace and security' and agreed on a counter-terrorism initiative to strengthen our work together in this vital endeavour," he said.

"On the defence side, our bilateral exercise programme continues to grow and to strengthen. We have a robust exercise programme that has enabled us to enhance an already great military-to-military relationship with exercises such as Cope India, Malabar, and Shatrujeet," Blake said. "Defence sales are also of great interest to American companies."

"We've already seen some very important defence sales just in the last year or two of C-130Js and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. The Indian government also recently submitted a Letter of Request for 10 C-17 aircraft worth about $2.5 billion. And that's not the end of it," Blake said.

The State Department official said there are large numbers of important potential deals, up to $18 billion worth of new opportunities that will become available in the next several years, most notably the multi-role combat aircraft purchase which by itself is a roughly $10 billion sale in which two American companies -- Boeing, headquartered in Chicago, and Lockheed Martin -- are competing.

"That the Indians are now considering US manufacturers and US technology to meet their military aircraft requirements -- which would have been unimaginable just 10 years ago -- is just one measure of how far and how rapidly our relationship is evolving," Blake said.

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Lalit K Jha in Washington
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