New Delhi: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned Wednesday that “the clock is ticking” on a US-Indian civilian nuclear accord that has been stalled by the New Delhi’s government’s communist allies.
Wrapping up a two-day visit that focused on US arms sales and a burgeoning military relationship, Gates said however failure to reach agreement on the civilian nuclear technology in time would have little impact on the deepening military ties.
“The clock is ticking in terms of how much time is available to get all the different aspects of an agreement implemented,” Gates told reporters.
Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has warned the Indians that a civil nuclear agreement had to come before the Senate for approval no later than July.
The White House said Tuesday there was a “bit more time” in the US political calendar before President George W. Bush leaves office, but Gates warned that it depends on when the Senate recesses for the US elections.
He said the United States would respect India’s internal politics but was hopeful that the government would solve the impasse in time.
“The two sides need to work together on that,” he said, adding that “it serves the best interests of both countries, and I think it is an agreement that has positive global consequences.”
Whatever the outcome, Gates said US military relations with India were broad and would continue to move in a positive direction.
US arms contractors are keen to compete for Indian weapons contracts, particularly a competition for 126 multi-role fighter aircraft worth $10 to $12 billion.
Gates said that in his meetings with Indian leaders he expressed appreciation for India’s decision last month to buy six US-made C-130J aircraft, a deal worth more than a billion dollars to aeronautics giant Lockheed-Martin.
“There are some other deals in the works,” the defence chief said. “I indicated that we are interested, and obviously believe we are very competitive, in the selection of the new multi-role combat fighter.
“We ask no special treatment, we simply are pleased to have a place at the table, and we believe that in a fair competition we have a very good case to make.
“The C-130 sale will give us an opportunity to demonstrate not only the quality of our equipment, but also the quality of the service and maintenance and follow on in these sales.”
India traditionally has looked to Russia as a supplier of military equipment, but has begun to diversify as it undertakes a major across-the-board modernisation of its armed forces.
A US defence official travelling with Gates said the Indians were intent on acquiring a world class air force and blue water navy capable of projecting power beyond the subcontinent.
Although Pakistan has been India’s traditional adversary, New Delhi’s drive to modernise its military has been spurred by a parallel military transformation in China, its nearest potential rival for regional influence and power.
During previous stops in Indonesia and Australia, Gates emphasised US interest in helping those democracies to strengthen their military capabilities and assume a larger security role in the region.
He insisted the US push to improve military ties in the region should not be viewed “in the context of any other country, including China.”
“These expanding relationships do not necessarily have to be directed against anybody,” he said.
Gates said the United States was taking a long-term view in its developing security relationship with India.
“We’re not looking for quick results, or great leaps forward, but a steady expansion of this relationship,” he said.
He added that the US relationship with India had strong bi-partisan support in Washington, and would continue regardless of who was elected US president in November.