U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defense Minister Shri A. K. Antony and other top Indian officials to reaffirm America’s commitment to a strong defense relationship with India. “We’re not looking for quick results or big leaps forward," he said, "but rather a steady expansion of this relationship that leaves everybody comfortable. “We are mindful of India’s long tradition of non-alignment and are respectful of that. But," said Mr. Gates, "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 I met with.”
Mr. Gates said the United States and India “already have a very ambitious schedule of exchanges and exercises that is growing in size and sophistication.” The U.S. and India participate annually in one of the world’s largest naval exercises also involving naval forces from Singapore, Japan, and Australia.
Defense trade was among a number of issues discussed. Mr. Gates said the U.S. was pleased with India’s one-billion dollar purchase in January of six Hercules aircraft from U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin. He said the U.S. is eager to bid on the sale of one-hundred-twenty-six multi-role combat aircraft for India’s air force.
Secretary Gates talked with Indian officials about the 1-2-3 Agreement, which would bring into effect the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal to allow the export of U.S. nuclear fuel and technology to India. The Indian government is currently in negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency. “The clock is ticking in terms of how much time is available to get all the different aspects of this agreement implemented,” he said. The U.S. Senate must ratify the final arrangements, said Mr. Gates, “and with this being an election year, there is an open question about how long the Senate will be in session beyond this summer.”
Mr. Gates thanked India for its contributions in Afghanistan, including eight-hundred million dollars in economic and civic reconstruction efforts there. President George W. Bush said the U.S. and India “are now united by opportunities that can lift our people, and by threats that can bring down all our progress.”