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India, US to Expand Defense Ties

India and the United States have agreed to enhance defense cooperation and initiate a broad energy dialogue to meet the burgeoning needs of their economies, Indo-Asian News Service reported Wednesday.

This was announced by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Indian External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh at a joint press conference in New Delhi Wednesday.

"Our defense cooperation is strong and military-to-military contacts are growing. The US looks forward to enhancing defense cooperation," Rice told the press after meeting Natwar Singh and ruling United Progressive Alliance chair and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

"All matters relating to defense cooperation, including the sale of F-16s, were discussed," she said, while stressing on "common values of democracy and pluralism" that bind the United States and India together.

"We also look forward to expanding a dialogue on energy. India and the United States can also explore new technologies to meet burgeoning energy needs of their growing economies," she said, while acknowledging that the United States has "concerns" on the proposed India-Iran-Pakistan pipeline.

"We have communicated these concerns to the Indian government," she said in response to a question on the US stand on the Iran-India gas pipeline.

"Phase II of Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) between the United States and India should be concluded soon," said Natwar Singh. "Civil aviation is another area of growth with our open skies policy," he added.

Natwar Singh and Rice also discussed developments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Nepal.

(Xinhua News Agency March 17, 2005)

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