'US keen to move forward on key defence pacts with India'

'US keen to move forward on key defence pacts with India'

The US is keen to move forward on some important defence agreements with India that will make it easier for the Trump administration to share classified data and facilitate the sale of F-16 and F-18 fighter jets to New Delhi, a top American diplomat has said.

The Trump administration last month told Congress that it "strongly supports" the sale of F-18 and F-16 fighter jets to India and asserted that the proposals have the potential to take the Indo-US defence ties to the next level.

There are important defence agreements that the two countries can move forward on, Alice G Wells, acting assistant secretary of state for the South and Central Asian Affairs, told reporters yesterday.

The agreements will make it easier for the US to share classified data and that will facilitate sales like the F-16 or the F-18 fighter jets and will help create a defence technology partnership, which is what India is seeking, but which will also create jobs for Americans at home, she said.

"This is a dynamic relationship which really hasn't begun to see the potential yet," Wells said.

Wells had accompanied US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his just concluded trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

"This was an extremely friendly, very wide-ranging dialogue on how we can partner together on the strategic relationship that we think is going to define the rest of the 21st century," Wells said.

While there was a bilateral component to the visit, they talked about how the two countries with shared values - a respect for democracy, transparency, freedom of navigation, for economic development - can inculcate these values in the broader Indo-Pacific region, working with important partners like Japan and Australia.

"Tillerson's visit to Gandhi Smriti was very moving and was a touchstone for what unites that this relationship is very much one built on values," she said, adding that the Secretary of State laid out a lot of ambitions for the relationship.

"We want to build on the June visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the President (Donald Trump). We'd like to deepen the military-to-military cooperation that has moved very quickly; over the last decade we've gone from zero to 15 billion in defence sales.

"We'd like to expand the bilateral trade and investment dimension of the relationship. We have about USD 115 billion in trade, USD 40 billion in bilateral investment," Wells said, noting that this week they have two important meetings going on, the Trade Policy Forum and the Commercial Dialogue.

The US sees this as a two-way street. In November Mahindra is opening an auto plant in Michigan.

"We've seen purchases of Boeing aircraft, all of which produce, again, thousands of jobs for American citizens," Wells said.

Later in November, the president's daughter Ivanka Trump will attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit which is going to bring together 1,300 entrepreneurs and investors, demonstrate the entrepreneurial spirit of the relationship.

"During his India visit, Tillerson focused on how they can promote regional stability. In the South Asia strategy, we have given an important role to India on helping to stabilise Afghanistan economically and to build its human resource capacity," she said.

Since 2001, India has invested USD 2 billion in Afghanistan. They have pledged another USD 1 billion by 2020.

India has projects in 31 provinces and all of these projects have been very well received.

"They are constructive, and I think it has demonstrated that India is an important and valuable partner.

"At the same time, we have made it clear to everyone that we would never tolerate anyone's soil being used against the other. On the fight against terrorism, building on the joint designation we did of Harakat ul-Mujahidin during Modi's visit, we're looking forward to working with the the Indians on identifying additional designations that we should pursue together," Wells added.

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