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Indian Defence Minister arrives in US for bilateral talks

A file photo.

WASHINGTON (PTI): Defence Minister AK Antony arrived here with a high-power team to hold wide-range of bilateral talks with top Obama administration officials which would include strengthening military-to-military ties, regional security and purchase of US defence equipments.

Security issues - both regional and global - are likely to come up prominently during Antony's talks with the top officials including his US counterpart Robert Gates spread over next two days.

Antony would also be meeting National Security Advisor Gen (rtd) James Jones and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.

The Defence Minister is accompanied by Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Bikram Singh and Andaman and Nicobar tri-services Command Admiral D K Joshi, who are tipped to be the next Army and Navy chiefs respectively -- apart from IAF's Director General (Air/Operations) Air Marshal A K Gogoi.

Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar and Adviser to Defence Minister Sundaram Krishna too will be part of the high-level delegation, officials said in New Delhi.

Concerned over US military aid to Pakistan being misused against India, Antony had recently asked the Obama administration to establish a "monitoring mechanism" to ensure that this does not happen.

Antony had raised the issue during his meeting with both General Jones and also US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mullen, who were on a visit to New Delhi in July.

The Defence Minister had told the US security top brass that American arms aid to Pakistan was disproportionate to the war on terror for which it was meant.

Ahead of his meeting with the Defence Minister, Gates told Pentagon reporters last week that he wants to strengthen and expand America's military-to-military ties with India.

"We are looking to expand this relationship in ways that are mutually beneficial," Gates said.

"They (India) have a big competition going on for a new modern fighter. We'll probably have some conversations about that," Gates.

The Defence Secretary said he had a very good visit to India last year wherein he met his Indian counterpart and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Responding to a question on India's concerns about restriction on export of high-technology items, Gates acknowledged that this is high on the agenda and he would like to see those restrictions removed.

"I think that is certainly high on our list, particularly in the context of export-import, or export controls, and my view of the importance of changing those export controls in ways that better protect the things that are really important and open up trade and allow US companies to sell abroad those things that technologies that are not critical," Gates said.

"So, I think India certainly is high on our list in terms of a country that we would like, I would like to see those restrictions eased," Gates said at the Pentagon news conference which was also addressed by Admiral Mullen.

The military-to-military relationship with India is exceptionally strong and growing, said Mullen.

"We are very committed to that, and with all of our services. I was recently there and it has taken on a significance that is equal to so many other historic relationships for us, and we know that," Mullen said.

"The Indian Ocean, we also know, is an incredibly important body of water; not just now, but also in the future.

So we recognise the importance of keeping that relationship as strong as it is, and also making it grow," he said.


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