May 29, 2012

US to firm up strategic ties further

Rajeev Sharma
NEW DELHI: Two major back-to-back India-US bilateral engagements are set to take place next month: first the India visit by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on June 6 and the Indo-US strategic dialogue in Washington a week after that. The upcoming engagements come close on the heels of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to India ten days ago.
Sources said Panetta, who will be meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and hold official talks with his Indian counterpart Defence Minister AK Antony, will be coming to India with the most important mission objective (from the American point of view) to seal the $ 1.4 billion deal for sale of 22 Apache attack helicopters to India that the Americans have been lobbying for last two years. Panetta and Antony will also be discussing ways to further strengthen the Indo-US long term military cooperation.
However, on the flip side, India may well disappoint the Americans again by sticking to their oft-repeated opposition to sign military pacts like the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) which Panetta is expected to pitch for.  India has consistently opposed signing these agreements saying these are not conducive to its national interests.
Af-Pak region and terrorism are expected to be other topics that are high on Panetta's agenda of talks with his Indian interlocutors. Panetta, a former CIA chief, is a hands-on expert on security issues and is expected to share with his Indian interlocutors the latest measures that the US has implemented in its war against terror in the Af-Pak region.
Panetta is also expected to brief the Indians about the upcoming international conference on Afghanistan in Chicago. The Americans' plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2014 and India's role in the post-withdrawal scenario are also likely to come up in the discussions between Antony and Panetta. China will be another important point of discussion during these talks, sources said.

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