US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wound up his 24-hour trip to India Thursday night with an aim to push forward relations with India while preparing for a large sale of weapons to Pakistan.
Making India a key destination of his first foreign foray in the second term of the Bush Administration, Rumsfeld indicated on Thursday that the two countries were ready to transform the relations into practical steps by saying that Washington wanted the defense ties to be further "knitted" together.
"We had excellent discussion and we discussed all kinds of things that are important for our two ministries," he said at a joint press briefing along with Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee after 90-minute meeting.
"We intend to see these ties further knitted together in coming months and years," said the US Defense Secretary who flew into Delhi Wednesday night from Afghanistan.
Local observers say that the purpose of Rumsfeld's whirlwind visit was to explain to Indian government Washington's recent decision to supply military equipment worth over US$1 billion to Pakistan.
The Pentagon last month notified the US Congress of three proposed arms sales to Pakistan worth US$1.2 billion, including eight P-3C Orion surveillance planes. Islamabad is also seeking F-16 fighter aircraft.
Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh warned on Wednesday that supply of American arms to Pakistan could have a negative impact when the Indo-Pak talks were at a "sensitive stage."
"I would like to assure members that in case of US arms supply to Pakistan, the United Progressive Alliance government will not hesitate to take steps to ensure that our defense preparedness is not compromised in any way," he told Lok Sabha (the Lower House of the Parliament).
While both Rumsfeld and Mukherjee refused to take any questions, the US Defense Secretary expressed his "conviction" that the two countries needed to develop "stronger and stronger cooperative relations" which had emerged during the last four years.
The US view on the resumption of military supplies to Pakistan was that the equipment being made available was defensive in nature, required for counter-terrorism measures and therefore would not affect India.
Aware of the unhappiness of India about the American move, Rumsfeld stressed Washington's relationship with New Delhi was "very important."
Relations between India and the United States, that were on opposite sides of the Cold War, have warmed in recent years, but Washington's decision to embrace Pakistan as a vital ally in the war against terror has been an irritant.
A senior US defense official traveling with Rumsfeld said that India was a "rising global power" and it was important for Washington to maintain close ties with New Delhi.
This was Rumsfeld's first visit to New Delhi after the change of the government in India and the first major visit by a top US official after George Bush's reelection last month. Rumsfeld last visited India in June 2002 at the height of tensions with Pakistan.
A Western diplomat said that the United States needs India in its world-wide anti-terrorism campaign which is still going on. India has pledged US$400 million toward Afghan reconstruction efforts and US$20 million toward humanitarian assistance in Iraq, and made offers of assistance in training Iraqi officials on election initiatives.
However, India has been steadfast in its refusal to commit any troops to Iraq, and its parliament has adopted a resolution demanding the withdrawal of all coalition troops from that country.
Another issue for discussion was the Worldwide Proliferation Security Initiative. The US would like India to endorse this plan to help keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
Also, in the context of this security initiative, the US wanted India to keep pressure on Iran. The two countries have close business ties.
Rumsfeld's visit comes at a time when the two countries are negotiating the second phase of what is called the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP), an initiative aimed at cooperation in the sensitive space and nuclear fields, hi-tech trade and missile defense.
(Xinhua News Agency December 10, 2004)