Antony goes to US as India gets NSG nod


New Delhi : With the India-US nuclear deal inching close to fruition, Defence Minister A.K. Antony Sunday embarked on a four-day visit to the US to enhance military ties.

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Antony will meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defence Robert M. Gates during the Sep 7-10 trip.

Antony is travelling to the US at the invitation of Gates, who visited India in February.

“The minister is scheduled to hold meetings with Gates on important bilateral issues relating to defence. He will also meet National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Rice,” a defence ministry official said.

Sources in the ministry have not ruled out a chance meeting with US President George W. Bush.

The Indian delegation also includes Defence Secretary Vijay Singh and three senior officers from the army, navy and air force. Antony last visited the US in June 2005 but he did not hold the defence portfolio then.

“The discussions are expected to include the regional security scenario and matters of mutual concern,” the official said.

Antony will also visit the Arlington National Cemetery and lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Air Force Memorial.

India-US defence ties have proliferated in recent years. The two countries have held around 50 war games in seven years to build ‘interoperability’.

By contrast, the combined figure for India’s military exercises with Russia, France and the Britain is not even a third of that. The latest addition to the list of war games is the prestigious Red Flag Exercise under which the Indian Air Force took part with the US and three other countries.

Antony’s visit starts a day after the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) took a historic decision to lift a global ban on nuclear trade with India, ending 34 years of New Delhi’s isolation and setting the stage for sealing its landmark nuclear deal with the US.

Besides, three important India-US pacts are close to be finalised.Under one of them, the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), the Indian and US militaries can refuel ships and aircraft in cashless transactions that are balanced at the end of the year.

Apart from the LSA, the other pacts are the Communication Inter-operability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) that will enable the two militaries communicate on a common platform, and an end-user agreement governing the sale of US military hardware to India.

These pacts have been on the backburner for long due to the objections of the Left parties. With the Communists withdrawing their outside support to the government, the way is now clear for inking the agreements, a defence ministry official said.