New Delhi: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Saturday called for stronger defence cooperation between India and the US, and said Washington was supportive of India playing a larger role in regional security.
In a talk at the silver jubilee function of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF)here, Hagel referred to ties with China and said both India and the US should “avoid traps of rivalry” in their ties with Beijing.
He invited India to an expanded trilateral cooperation with the US and Japan and said that bureaucratic red tape should not be allowed to hamper their expanded defence cooperation.
“A stronger US-India partnership is critical for sustained peace and prosperity around the globe. There is bipartisan support in the US for stronger India-US relations,” Hagel said.
“As our interests align, so should our armed forces. Increased investment towards defence industrial partnership with India is the way of going forward. A robust defence partnership and joint military capabilities are to be the cornerstone of Indo-US relationship,” he said.
He said the challenge before both nations was to “seize the opportunities before us”.
“Bureaucratic red tape – within either of our governments – must not bound the limits of our partnership and initiatives,” he stressed.
The US defense secretary said security interests of the US and India converge as “India continues to look east and the US pursues strategic re-balance. These things headline the convergence of interests of our two nations”.
“US-India defence cooperation is top priority,” he said, adding that the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) was the “centrepiece of our defence cooperation, and I am committed to enhancing it”.
He said he was looking forward to the next meeting of the defence framework agreement to replace the 10-year defence agreement that is due to expire next year.
Hagel said there were several proposals that would transfer technology and production expertise to India, including a plan for the US and India to co-produce and co-develop the Javelin anti-tank missile.
On India’s expanded role in South Asia and the region, Hagel said: “As India expands its own security role in South Asia and through the Pacific, the US will continue to support and encourage India’s peaceful ambitions.”
He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his invite to South Asian leaders to his swearing-in ceremony signalled his intent of better ties with Pakistan and other neighbours.
On India’s long-term involvement in Afghanistan’s development, Hagel said: “By providing assistance to the Afghan security forces and the significant humanitarian development support, India has invested in long term regional stability.”
He said India was “assuming significant security responsibility beyond South Asia” through its participation in humanitarian efforts, including in counter piracy, and providing tsunami relief.
On China, he said: “Just as the US need not choose between its Asian alliances and a constructive relationship with China, India need not choose between closer partnership with America and improved ties with China.”
He said the two in their relations with Beijing should avoid “the traps of rivalry. “We will continue to seek a stable and peaceful order in which China is a fellow trustee working cooperatively with both our nations”.
He said India should expand its trilateral cooperation with Japan and the US.
Referring to the tensions in the South China Sea, the US defense secretary said both India and the US favour a peaceful resolution of disputes for freedom of navigation in the seas.
On the Indian general election, which saw the Bharatiya Janata Party sweep to power with a massive mandate, he said it reflected the power of a democracy and its people.
“India’s elections were a reminder that democracy is not only how we vote, but also who we are.”
Drawing a parallel between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi’s rise to power, Hagel said: “It is no coincidence that the son of a tea seller becomes the Indian prime minister and a child born in a small Kenyan family becomes US president.”
On Modi’s forthcoming visit to the US, Hagel said Obama was “very much looking forward to the summit meeting.
Hagel, who arrived Thursday evening on a three-day visit, earlier Saturday met Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha.
On Friday, Hagel held talks with Modi, Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and discussed new ways to boost the bilateral strategic partnership.