- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

NEW DELHI (Agence France-Presse) — India and the United States announced this week they had agreed to strengthen cooperation in defense and the global war on terrorism at talks between a top U.S. defense official and the new Indian government.

The talks between Douglas Feith, U.S. undersecretary for defense policy, and Indian officials focused on strengthening cooperation and the security situation in South Asia and Iraq, according to a statement issued Thursday, a day after the meeting concluded.

In the talks that started Tuesday, the two sides said there is a growing area of convergence, including on “security issues with special emphasis on terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and security of sea lanes.”

Mr. Feith made a presentation on issues including missile defense and updates on the security situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The previous Indian government — unlike many close U.S. allies — had been receptive to Washington’s proposed missile-defense shield.

Mr. Feith’s visit, part of regularly scheduled bilateral talks since 1993, came three months after the United States named India’s rival Pakistan “a major non-NATO military ally,” provoking ire in New Delhi, which does not have the preferential status.

Pakistan, with which India has fought three wars, is a front-line ally in the U.S.-led “war on terrorism” that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

The United States and India, then led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, signed a landmark agreement in January to share advanced technology, including peaceful nuclear applications.

Washington has held several joint military exercises with Indian defense forces in recent years. However, the previous Indian government had turned down a U.S. request to send troops to Iraq, fearing a political backlash at home.

A senior Indian army official said Thursday that the army has chosen a brigade of troops that could be sent to Iraq under the U.N. flag, but that three months’ notice was needed before deploying them.

“We have earmarked a brigade-worth of troops for any eventuality in Iraq, in case a request is received from the United Nations,” Maj. Gen. R.P.S. Malhan was quoted as saying by the United News of India.

Gen. Malhan also said Indian troops are preparing to go to Sudan to join U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Also Thursday, India’s new foreign minister told his Pakistani counterpart the two countries should end their rivalry. Natwar Singh of India telephoned Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri and told him “that from now [on], the future of India-Pakistan relations would not lie in the past,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

“The telephone conversation touched on all issues of bilateral interest and was conducted in a spirit of friendship, cordiality and bonhomie,” the statement added.

Relations between India and Pakistan have steadily thawed since the previous Indian prime minister offered a symbolic hand of friendship a year ago.

Bilateral peace talks are scheduled in New Delhi for June 27-28 after separate meetings on easing nuclear tensions.

But the fragility of the peace process was underscored this week by a sudden war of words over the basis on which talks would be held in the wake of the change of government in India.

On Monday, Pakistan urged India “not to conduct diplomacy through the media” after Mr. Singh highlighted the 1972 Shimla agreement, which ended the countries’ third war, as a “bedrock” for relations between the neighbors.

Indian officials believe the Shimla pact implicitly formalized the splitting of Kashmir, which both countries claim and where an insurgency against Indian rule erupted in 1989.

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