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Delhi to prod Bush on Arrow sale

New Delhi, Aug. 1: India will try to convince the US not to oppose an Israeli proposal to sell it the Arrow anti-missile system during a meeting in Washington next week.

The meeting will also provide India the chance to get a first-hand assessment from the US on the situation in Iraq.

A delegation led by defence secretary Ajay Prasad leaves for Washington to participate in the two-day Defence Policy Group meeting starting next Wednesday. The delegation comprises senior foreign ministry officials besides key defence establishment officials.

The fact that the policy group meeting — the highest forum of bilateral military dialogue — is taking place despite India’s decision not to send troops to Iraq solely on the basis of an American request indicates that bilateral ties have not been affected.

Referring to speculation that the move would adversely affect relations with the US, a South Block official said: “It clearly shows that we have a certain level of maturity in our relationship where we can live with such differences and concentrate on other areas of cooperation.”

A foreign ministry official added: “Our position on Iraq is well known and there will be no change in India’s stand on sending troops there unless the United Nations Security Council comes out with a fresh mandate and an explicit request for its members to participate in the stabilisation of the embattled country.”

Prasad’s most important meeting is with Doug Feith, undersecretary of defence for policy and the US’ point man for India on defence. But the defence secretary and other delegation members will also meet other key members in the Pentagon and the state department, especially deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage.

The US has allowed Israel to start negotiations with India on the sale of the Phalcon air-borne radar system, but has been reluctant to give it the green signal for the sale of the Arrow anti-missile system, a joint US-Israeli project.

The Bush administration seems to be divided on the matter. The Pentagon, which describes Arrow as a defensive system, has no problems with India acquiring the system, but the state department has obstructed the sale.

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