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Since 1st March, 1999
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Pranab sends message to Left via Moscow

Moscow, Nov. 16: From 10 Janpath to Alimuddin Street via the Kremlin, Pranab Mukherjee today carried a message for the Left in India and also told a gung-ho Washington that in India’s military relations the US must be left out somewhere.

The defence minister had two separate meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The first was a 30-minute private affair that Mukherjee said was to give a message from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The second meeting, also in the Kremlin, was in the company of Indian officials.

At the top of Mukherjee’s agenda for the meeting with the Russian President was the promise that New Delhi’s dalliance with American military suppliers will not dilute Russia’s stake in the defence establishment. And just second on the agenda was the effort to assuage the Left.

“I hope they will get the message,” he replied after being asked to respond to the Left’s allegation that he was bartering Indian security interests to the US after signing the framework agreement in Washington in June this year. “I hope they will get the message that India is India and India is not for sale to anybody,” Mukherjee repeated.

Mukherjee also said India and Russia were in touch on the Iran issue. It was clear that Moscow had raised India’s vote against Iran and in favour of referring it to the UN Security Council.

The Russian side was concerned that India was altering its traditional position. But Mukherjee said New Delhi and Moscow as well as China were in touch and it could well be that when the Iran issue comes up at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on November 24, India would work to avoid a reference to the Security Council on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Russian President had kind words for Mukherjee after the meetings, words to convey that Moscow was taking New Delhi’s reassurance at face value. The Indian defence minister, he said, is “an experienced person who we know well”.

Putin also noted that political contacts between Moscow and New Delhi were incomparable. “The level of our political contacts is of an unprecedented nature. They are based on ancient friendly relations and meet the interests of our peoples. It is important that relations between the two defence ministries of the two countries are developing dynamically,” he said.

To illustrate this dynamism Putin emphasised the military exchanges. “Our military ships have visited India this year and we are planning to conduct such exercises in future,” he said.

Mukherjee repeatedly emphasised that the procurement and acquisitions from Russia were not threatened by engagement with the US. “The dominant position of Russia in our defence technology cooperation is clear. There is no question of diluting that position. There has been no misunderstanding with Russia but the fact of the matter is we never had any military relationship with the US and now that possibility is developing,” he explained.

Mukherjee’s one-to-one meeting with Putin lasted 30 minutes. Mukherjee and Russian defence minister Ivanov earlier concluded the fifth meeting of the Inter Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation. Mukherjee marked out the consent to the text of an intellectual property rights (IPR) agreement and Russia’s agreement to allow Indian armed forces and agencies direct interaction with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for spares as the two highlights of the meeting.

On the IPR agreement that will be formally signed during Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit in the first week of December, Mukherjee said Moscow had agreed not to implement it retrospectively but from the date that it is signed. Also, it had agreed to a proposal on the definition of the phrase “military product” that was forwarded by Indian ambassador Kanwal Sibal.

The inter governmental commission also agreed that the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy will be allowed to interact with original equipment manufacturers for spares ' a burning issue because of ageing Soviet-era equipment.

Right now, Moscow allows direct interaction with only 16 of more than 200 OEMs from whom equipment had been procured by India.

Mukherjee said an agreement on Indian participation to produce medium lift military transport aircraft was also likely during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit. Russia has agreed to procure 100 aircraft of the category and the IAF will procure 45 aircraft.

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