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India, US sign new defence framework

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
Last updated on: June 29, 2005 10:01 IST
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Indian defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld have signed a 'New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship' that supercedes the 'Agreed Minute on Defense Relations Between the United States and India' signed in January 1995.

The new agreement establishes a new subgroup -- the Defence Procurement and Production Group and also institutes a Joint Working Group for mid-year review of work under the aegis of the US-India Defence Policy Group.

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It acknowledged that the DPG would continue to 'serve as the primary mechanism to guide the US-India strategic defence relationship' and noted that the DPG would make 'appropriate adjustments to the structure and frequency of its meetings and of its subgroups, when agreed to by the DPG co-chairs,to ensure that it remains an effective mechanism to advance US-India defense cooperation.'

The initiative  for the new agreement, senior diplomatic sources told had come from the Pentagon in order to signal a marker in terms of how far the US-India defence relationship had come from the Agreed Minute signed over a decade ago,with the subgroup on Defence Procurement and Production Group envisaged to be the reference point vis-a-vis any arms sales, transfer of technology and co-production that both countries may undertake at some point although there were no deals or MOUs inked during Mukherjee's visit.

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The agreement noted that since the last Agreed Minute 'changes in the international security environment have challeged our countries in ways unforseen 10 years ago.'

'The US-India defence relationship has advanced in a short time to unprecedented levels of cooperations unimaginable in 1995,' it said, and added that the new framework 'builds on pass successes, seizes new opportunities, and charts a course for the US-India defense relationship for the next 10 years.'

According to the new agreement, the framework for the US-India Defence Relationship 'will support, and will be an element of, the broader US-India strategic partnership.'

Besides expanding collaboration in missile defence and a host of other cooperative ventures between the defence establishments of both countries, including strengthening the capabilities of both militaries to promote security and defeat terrorism and enhancing the capabilities to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the agreement said two-way defence trade would also be an integral component.

In this regard, it said, 'The United States and India will work to conclude defence transactions, not solely as ends in and of themselves, but as a means to strengthen out countries' security, reinforce our strategic partnership, achieve greater interactions between our armed forces, and build greater understanding between our defense establishments.'

The agreement capped a busy day for Mukherjee and his official meeting with Rumsfeld that was preceded by a honour guard with the Pentagon pulling out all the stops to greet the Indian minister.

Rumsfeld in a rare gesture had also hosted Mukherjee and his delegation for dinner the previous night before their official meeting and among the guests were Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, chairman-designate of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, Senator John Cornyn, Texas Republican and co-chair of the Friends of India in the US Senate, and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, GOP co-chair of the House Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

Before his meeting with Rumsfeld, Mukherjee laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery and also laid a wreath at the memorial for the victims of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disaster -- the latter which had among its crew Indian American Kalpana Chawla.

While at the Pentagon, Mukherkjee visited and signed the Visitors Book at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial.

Mukherjee was slated to leave Washington June 29 for Norfolk,Virginia, where the Joint Forces Command is based and the next day visit the Northern Command at Colorado Springs before arriving in New York on July 1 to inaugurate the North America Bengali Association annual convention at Madison Square Garden.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC