Washington, Feb. 6: Three days before foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal arrived here for talks with the Bush administration, American officials burned midnight oil and ensured that spare parts for the Indian navy’s Sea King helicopters, blocked even after the much-publicised removal of sanctions, were shipped to India.
The single-mindedness with which Bush administration officials worked towards the deadline of Sibal’s arrival for ensuring the shipment is a signal victory for a new strain of assertiveness in India’s foreign policy by taking a tough line on its interests, be it in Bangladesh, the US or Iran.
Sibal returned home yesterday after successfully negotiating a framework of 16 principles that will guide high-technology and “dual use” sales by the US to India, a problem that has vexed successive governments in New Delhi since the first Indian nuclear test in 1974.
Kenneth Juster, US under secretary for commerce, who negotiated the framework with Sibal, said: “There is immense potential for trade in the high-technology sector between the US and India, in areas ranging from information technology to telecommunications to bio-technology.
“The Statement of Principles... will serve as the framework for advancing such trade between our two countries consistent with our national security and foreign policy interests.”
“Dual use” goods and technology are those which have civilian and military applications. The significance of the progress made this week in talks between Sibal and Juster is that their agreement has come at a time when the US is shrinking away from anything that may contribute to weapons proliferation abroad.
It was agreed that the first meeting of an Indo-US High Technology Cooperation Group, set up in November last year, will take place shortly “to develop a schedule of activities to further the Statement of Principles”.
The Indian government will be required under the framework agreed upon yesterday to give the Americans “a mutually satisfactory system of assurances” regarding end use, diversion or transfer of goods and technology related to missiles and nuclear material.
The Americans will have the right to verify end users and end uses and the two governments will have to work out arrangements to deal with violations and infractions.
The Statement of Principles referred to the importance the US attaches to “a supportive, regulatory and institutional environment in India for robust bilateral high technology commerce”. In plain language, India will have to strengthen its export control laws and educate its private sector about America’s strict regulations in this regard.
While the framework negotiated between Sibal and Juster is considered a signal advance towards Indian access to US dual use goods technology, the significance of facilitating the shipment of Sea King helicopter parts will not be lost on South Block.
India had sent spare parts of the helicopters to the UK for repairs because Sea Kings are manufactured by Westland, a British company. They are made in the UK under licence from Sikorsky, a US company. Therefore, the British firm was covered by the extra-territorial application of US laws, as in the case of the stalemated sale of Arrow missile system by Israel to India.
After the nuclear tests in 1998 and the US sanctions, Washington pressured the UK company not to repair or return the spare parts to India, thereby drastically diminishing the aerial capabilities of the Indian navy.
The shipment of the Sea King spares eliminates one irritant in the way of defence-related commerce between India and the US.