Visiting Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee has made it clear that India is more interested in co-production of defence technology and military hardware with the United States, including fighter aircraft, rather than direct purchases whether it be F-16s or F-18s.
Speaking both at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- a leading Washington think tank -- and earlier to virtually the who's who of the US defence industry and manufacturing giants at the luncheon round table, under the aegis of the the US-India Business Council, the defence minister argued for the total elimination of impediments blocking American dual-use high technology to India.
He said such a policy was anachronistic since New Delhi had an impeccable track record regarding the confidentiality of such technology.
In a brief interaction with a select group of journalists following his closed-door meeting with the US defence establishment, Mukherjee also dismissed any contention that India was dumping Russia as its major military supplier and instead now opting for the US, reiterating that this was not the case at all.
The minister also denied that India was on the verge of buying US patriot missiles, saying the controversy over such acquisitions was a figment of the media's imagination.
"In fact, there's a lot of confusion about this in the newspapers," he said. "There is no confusion either in the giver or in the taker, because the whole process is yet to start," he continued.
He explained that 'certain companies have responded to our request for proposals and those will be sorted out when concrete negotiations take place between the receiver and the giver'.
While asserting that as he had said in Delhi before departing for the US that he is not carrying a shopping list with him, Mukherjee said if India is going to acquire weapons and platforms from the US for the first time, 'it is necessary to understand each others' procedures in more detail'.
He said that during his meeting with the US and Indian defence industrialists, he had advised them 'to have deeper understanding and closer interaction so that these transactions can become clear as and when it is necessary'.
But Mukherjee said there should not be any restrictions vis-a-vis the transfer of dual-use technology to India because 'our track record of maintaining confidentiality is well proven over the years and we can assure that it will never fall in the wrong hands'.
While he indicated that the liberalisation of the dual-use technology regime is necessary for US-India defence cooperation to continue, he was much clearer in terms of making the the case that co-production will be a pre-condition for potential purchase of US fighter aircraft by India.
"In fact, as I mentioned, it is still at a very early stage, but we are interested in having co-production, transfer of technology and marketing also," he said.
"As there are two sides, both sides will have to agree when it will be finalised," he continued.
Earlier, after his meeting with leading defence manufacturers, Mukherjee said, "Because of higher and superior technology, we are emphasising on co-production so that there will be a vested interest in having the best type of technology and if you invest, naturally you will like to sell your products."
'Therefore co-production and joint manufacuturing is the vehicle through which this transfer of technology will be easy," he reiterated.
Mukherjee reassured Moscow saying, "We have not moved away from anybody. I would like to underline one point quite clearly. Friendship with one does not mean no friendship with the other. This point is to be understood very clearly."
He pointed out that 'Russia is a steady supplier of weapons and platforms to India and still is. We suggested when the offer (by the US) was made available, that the Indian side said that when requests for proposals will be responded, it will be considered in the context of our requirements of overall competition, in terms of cost and quality and all other things."
Therefore, he cautioned against 'presuming too many things before they actually take shape'.
Mukherjee who arrived in Washington on June 26, the next day met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and was to be hosted for dinner by Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld before their official meeting on June 28 at the Pentagon.
He said his discussions with Rice were of a general nature where 'we shared our perceptions in our neighborhood as far as the geopolitical situation, and how to expand our cooperation'.
Mukherjee said he had not brought up the issue of India's candidacy for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, but that Rice of her own volition had reiterated her remarks made in Delhi recently that Washington policy involved overall reforms of the UN 'and not specific to any particular country'.