Antony set for American debut Trip coincides with 123 vote

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By SUJAN DUTTA in Delhi
  • Published 19.08.08
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New Delhi, Aug. 19: A.K. Antony will be visiting the US for the first time since taking over as defence minister, a trip he has been putting off repeatedly but now finds politically convenient to make after the withdrawal of the Left’s support to the UPA government.

The tentative schedule for Antony’s visit is from September 7 to 10, ironically at the same time that the India-US civilian nuclear deal — the 123 Agreement — is slated to come up for an up-down vote in the US Congress.

Defence ministry sources said the visit was not planned to coincide with the US Congress’s taking up the 123 Agreement, but it is a development the Left will note.

Prakash Karat has been alleging that the deal is part of a larger project of the US to bind India into a strategic-military relationship.

In 2005, the previous Indian defence minister — Pranab Mukherjee — visited the US and signed a 10-year Framework Cooperation Agreement for the India-US Defence Relationship, a pact the Left said took India closer to a military embrace with the US.

US defence secretary Robert Gates visited Delhi in February to bolster the military relationship and to lobby for US firms vying to win major contracts to supply hardware to the Indian armed forces. Antony’s visit is reciprocal, the ministry sources said.

The agenda for Antony’s visit is yet to be cleared by the cabinet committee on security where three important pacts have been pending even after being cleared by the services’ headquarters.

Top priority for the US among these is a Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) that will allow for reciprocal arrangements for Indian military personnel and equipment.

The two other agreements that are pending are a Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and an End-User Verification Agreement.

The CISMOA is an understanding that the US military insists upon to facilitate transfer of certain types of military technology.

The End-Use Verification Agreement is a somewhat controversial agreement in India that the defence ministry under Antony has been chary of signing so far. It will allow the US to verify that military equipment that it has transferred to India is being used for the purpose it is meant. The US insists upon it to ensure that its equipment is not used against US forces or against US interests.

But the Indian defence ministry had pointed out to the US in talks earlier that physical verification of equipment may not be possible. However, Indian and US officials were trying to work around such a requirement with India agreeing to furnish lists of equipment accompanied by an explanation of their use.

A new Indian defence procurement policy that is friendlier to suppliers comes into effect from September 1.