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Delhi drive for US nod to Arrow

New Delhi, Jan. 14: India will make yet another attempt to convince the US not to stand in the way of Delhi’s attempt to acquire the Arrow Missile Defence system from Israel.

The missile defence system is important for India if it is to challenge and undermine Pakistan’s first-strike nuclear doctrine.

The Arrow system is likely to come up during talks tomorrow when India and the US begin their two-day discussions on various aspects of missile defence. The talks are part of the ongoing close contacts which the two sides have been having on a number of issues of mutual interest and benefit.

The US has been holding similar dialogues with some of its close allies on its new strategic framework that includes strategic reduction of nuclear warheads, non-proliferation, missile defence and counter-proliferation.

The Indian team at the talks will be led by Sheelkant Sharma, additional secretary (disarmament) in the foreign ministry, and the US team by David Trachtenberg, principal deputy assistant secretary of defence.

The secret nuclear and missile cooperation between Pakistan and North Korea, stricter exports control and the necessity to build a defence mechanism to counter the likely threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of “non-state actors” such as fundamentalist and terrorist outfits are some of the issues the two sides will focus on.

Though Delhi has been talking for years about the secret cooperation between Pakistan and North Korea, it is only recently that the West, in general, and the US, in particular, have woken up to the threat.

The fear that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction could put such weapons in the hands of militant outfits has added a new dimension to the strategic and counter-proliferation talks that the US has been having with key world players.

India has been trying for several months now to get the Arrow system from Israel. But there is a sharp division in the Bush administration over this.

The US state department, led by Colin Powell, has been opposed to the sale because it feels this would turn the strategic balance in South Asia heavily in India’s favour.

But the US defence establishment in Pentagon sees nothing wrong in Delhi acquiring the missile defence system. The sale can now be completed only if President George W. Bush takes a decision in India’s favour.

From the point of view of India’s nuclear strategy, it is important that Delhi acquire a missile defence system. Experts argue that once this is done, India will be able to undermine Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, which has a first-strike posture, and prevent Islamabad from going ahead with any planned “nuclear adventure” against Delhi.

The Indian officials at tomorrow’s talk may take advantage of the US’ present concern over developments involving North Korea and the possible acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by terrorist groups to bolster the country’s argument to acquire the Arrow system.

From the US point of view, exports control is an important sphere. Though the US has no complaints against the Indian government and appreciates Delhi’s track record on exports control, it wants India to focus a bit more on the activities of the private sector firms dealing with items which can be used in chemical weapons.

The US team may urge India to implement sterner customs regulations and impose stricter vigil on private sector firms dealing with such items.

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