Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US Trip: Defence Deals is the key: India Eyes Breakthrough on Surveillance Drones

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two day visit to Washington, where he will be meeting US President Donald Trump for the first time, begins on Sunday.

India and the US will also discuss the sale of US fighter jets during Modi’s trip, in what could be the biggest deal since they began deepening defence ties more than a decade ago.

Just days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets President Donald Trump for the first time in Washington, the US has cleared the sale of 22 unmanned Guardian drones to India, according to sources reported on Thursday.

The report added that the deal has been approved by the US State Department and has been communicated to the Indian government and the manufacturer of the drone, California based General Atomics.

Securing agreement on the purchase of 22 unarmed drones is seen in Delhi as a key test of defence ties that flourished under former President Barack Obama but have drifted under Mr Trump, who has courted India’s rival China as he seeks Beijing’s help to contain North Korea’s nuclear program.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two day visit to Washington begins on Sunday. Mr Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping in April and has also had face-time with the leaders of nations including Japan, Britain and Vietnam since taking office in January, prompting anxiety in Delhi that India is no longer a priority in Washington.

If the Indian navy gets the unarmed surveillance drones it wants to keep watch over the Indian Ocean, it would be the first such purchase by a country that is not a member of the NATO alliance.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between several North American and European states based on the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949.

NATO constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. Three NATO members (the United States, France and United Kingdom) are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council with the power to veto and are officially nuclear-weapon states. NATO Headquarters are located in Haren, Brussels, Belgium, while the headquarters of Allied Command Operations is near Mons, Belgium.

India, a big buyer of US arms recently named by Washington as a major defence ally, wants to protect its 7,500 km (4,700 mile) coastline as Beijing expands its maritime trade routes and Chinese submarines increasingly lurk in regional waters.

But sources tracking the discussions say the US State Department has been concerned about the potential destabilising impact of introducing high-tech drones at a time when tensions are simmering between India and Pakistan.

Other strains have emerged, with the United States vexed by a growing bilateral trade deficit and Trump accusing New Delhi of negotiating unscrupulously at the Paris climate talks to walk away with billions in aid.

Defence deals, however, are one area where the two countries could make progress. The two sides had stepped up efforts in recent weeks to get inter-agency clearance for the sale of the Guardian drone.

India has raised the issue of the drones – reportedly worth more than $2 billion – with the Pentagon three times since June 2016, officials said, according to sources. The agency also said that an industry official involved in promoting India-US business ties said the drone sale enjoyed support from the White House and Congress, and was now awaiting clearance from the State Department.

U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner wrote in March to Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying the Guardian deal, estimated at more than $2 billion, would advance U.S. national security interests and protect U.S. jobs.

US export laws typically prohibit the transfer of such arms to a country unless it is fighting alongside US forces.

Indian Trade Secretary Rita Teaotia told reporters this week that the H-1B visas, under which Indian IT firms send large numbers of professionals to the United States, would be one of the issues on the table during PM Modi’s visit.

Since Mr Trump’s election on an America First  platform, US and Indian officials have sought to play down any contradiction between his stated desire to protect American jobs and PM Modi’s “Make in India” policy, arguing, for example, that deals in which components made in the United States are shipped to India for assembly benefit workers in both countries.

During the upcoming visit of Modi to the US on 25 and 26 June, his signature address at a ‘community reception’ organised by the Indian diaspora in the US will be comparatively quieter far removed from the high decibel, chest thumping variant we saw in New York but it will be equally well orchestrated at the poshest digs in Trump’s own backyard before meeting the US President next morning.

On 25 June (Sunday), Modi will address an invitation only group of Indian-Americans and Indians in America at the 14,000 square feet ballroom at The Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner, Virginia at 2 pm EST (11:30 pm IST).

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