India and the US are “destined to be strategic partners”, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said as the two countries announced an in-principle agreement on a military logistics deal.
Carter’s three-day visit also saw the two sides agreeing on setting up a new Maritime Security Dialogue between officials from the defence and external affairs ministries, with the US emphasising on freedom of navigation in the seas.
“The US-India relation is destined to be one of the fine partnerships of the 21st century,” Carter said at a joint press conference with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar here.
Carter said as the US was reaching west, India was reaching east, and also lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he has a “tremendous vision” for India’s future.
The two sides announced agreement for a Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, a new name for the Logistics Support Agreement that has been under discussion for almost a decade now.
While both Parrikar and Carter said the draft for the agreement will be finalised, Carter clarified that it will not involve the presence of US troops in India.
Parrikar said the growing interaction between armed forces of the two countries is a “significant aspect of bilateral relationship”, pointing out that India has more joint exercises with the US than any other country in the world.
“In this context, Secretary Carter and I agreed, in principle, to conclude a Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in the coming months,” Parrikar said.
Parrikar said the draft of the agreement will be ready in a month.
Asked if it will mean the presence of US troops in India, Carter said: “No one is talking about the US troops on Indian soil.”
He added that the details of the logistic support will be decided by the two governments.
The bone of contention in the relation that emerged recently with the US decision to supply F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan also came up during Carter’s visit, as Parrikar said he raised India’s concerns with the US defense secretary.
Carter, however, attempted to allay the fear, and said the jets have been given to Pakistan to “fight terrorism”.
“We take terrorism emanating from Pakistan very seriously,” Carter said.
“What we do in Pakistan is directed towards counter-terrorism. We too have suffered from terrorism emanating from the territory, more specifically Afghanistan,” he said.
“Pakistan has used F-16 in operations in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas),” Carter added.
In support of the India-US Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region and the maritime security objectives therein, both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in the area of maritime security.
In this context, Carter described India as the “net security provider” in the region.
While the two sides decided to start a new bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue, they also decided to expeditiously conclude a “white shipping” technical arrangement to improve data sharing on commercial shipping traffic.
A navy-to-navy discussions on submarine safety and anti-submarine warfare will also be started.
A joint statement released later said Carter and Parrikar reaffirmed the importance of “safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea”.
“They vowed their support for a rules-based order and regional security architecture conducive to peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean, and emphasized their commitment to working together and with other nations to ensure the security and stability that have been beneficial to the Asia-Pacific for decades,” the statement said.
The progress on US-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) was reviewed, and both sides agreed to initiate two new DTTI pathfinder projects on Digital Helmet Mounted Displays and the Joint Biological Tactical Detection System.
On-going discussions at the Jet Engine Technology Joint Working Group (JETJWG) and the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (JWGACTC) was lauded, and the two sides agreed to work towards greater cooperation in the field of cutting-edge defence technologies, including deepening consultations on aircraft carrier design and operations, and jet engine technology.
They noted the understanding reached to conclude an information exchange annex (IEA) to enhance data and information sharing specific to aircraft carriers.
Carter arrived in India on Sunday, and was hosted by Parrikar in Goa. Carter also visited Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, and the Indian Navy’s base at Karwar.
On Tuesday, Carter also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.