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Hagel supports India’s larger footprint in region

New Delhi, Aug 9 US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel Saturday called for stronger defence cooperation with India and said Washington is supportive of India playing a larger role in regional security.

In a talk at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Hagel referred to ties with China and said both India and the US should “avoid traps of rivalry” in their ties with Beijing.

He also invited India to an expanded trilateral defence cooperation with the US and Japan.

“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.

“US-India defence cooperation is top priority,” he said and added that the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) is 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.

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 is “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”.

Speaking of the Indian general elections, he said they 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 parallels between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise to power, Hagel said that “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.”

In defence cooperation, the US defence secretary said there were several proposals that would transfer technology and production expertise to India. This included a plan for the US and India to co-produce and co-develop the Javelin anti-tank missile.

On Prime Minister Modi’s forthcoming visit to the US, Hagel said that President Barack Obama is “very much looking forward to the summit meeting at the end of September.

Hagel, who arrived Thursday evening on a three-day visit, held talks with Prime Minister Modi, Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Friday on ways to boost the bilateral strategic partnership.

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