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Military deal with US on table

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Delhi
  • Published 14.07.07
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New Delhi, July 14: Indian and US military personnel, warships and aircraft will get access to and support from all defence ports, airfields and stations in either country after an agreement that is now with the cabinet committee on security is signed, senior US defence officials said today.

“We believe the Logistics Support Agreement is at its very final step,” a member of a US military delegation led by the head of its Defence Security Cooperation Agency, Lt General Jeffrey B. Kohler, said after several rounds of discussions with Indian counterparts. Indian defence ministry sources were not willing to publicly discuss the agreement. “We will tell you when it is time,” said a senior official.

The Logistics Support Agreement is modelled on similar arrangements that the US has with 65 countries — the latest being with Sri Lanka — but it has often run into controversies from political opposition in many of them.

US military officials here have pointed out that the signing of the agreement would be of advantage to both countries. India can look forward to getting support from US bases and also to cheaper arms transfers. India has begun talks with the US on buying a second warship, the USS Nashville, after the Trenton (Jalashva) was contracted last year for $48.3 million (though costs have now escalated).

Lt Gen. Kohler, who briefed Indian officials, is currently on his seventh visit to India in two years during which he has been explaining the intricacies of US arms transfer processes and support agreements.

In India, the Left has been vocal against it, interpreting the move as one designed to put the country’s military machine at the disposal of the US. The US’s public expectation of the signing of the agreement voiced today would sting the Left even more. The CPM recently objected to the anchoring of the US aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, off Chennai. The Nimitz and the USS Kitty Hawk are due to be hosted by the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal again in September.

In March last year, New Delhi and Washington said in a joint statement that both sides will try to sign the agreement at the earliest. But India has deliberately gone slow on it because the government is aware of the opposition to it. However, the US has now pointed out that signing the agreement would be to the mutual advantage of both countries.

Lt Gen. Kohler said that in the case of the transfer of a US naval vessel, the USS Trenton, to the Indian Navy, one of the factors that contributed to the cost escalation was the absence of an LSA. The Trenton, now christened the INS Jalashva, was negotiated for $48.3 million. The cost has now gone up to $53.5 million because India insisted on additional fitments of weapon systems.