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India seeks eased U.S. controls on sales of its defense technologies

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2010

India's defense minister says U.S. export controls that restrict the sale of defense technologies to blacklisted Indian entities are a "matter of concern" and should be lifted soon.

Ahead of his meetings in Washington this week, Arackaparambil Kurian Antony said he wants an "early solution" to the restrictions that have been an irritant in an otherwise robust U.S.-India defense relationship.

The minister cited the inclusion of Indian institutions on the Entity List and U.S. defense sales to Pakistan as key concerns, according to a Press Trust of India report.

Mr. Antony will meet Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and National Security Adviser James L. Jones on Tuesday.

The Entity List, published by the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security, is intended to inform the public of entities that have engaged in activities that could result in an increased risk of the diversion of exported technology to weapons of mass destruction programs.

Indian groups on this list include subordinates of the Defense Research and Development Organization and Indian Space Research Organization, and Department of Atomic Energy entities, including the Bhabha Atomic Research Center.

They were placed on the list after India, which is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, conducted nuclear tests in 1998.

Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said U.S. export controls are understandably a sore point in the relationship, but the situation has changed dramatically in the past five years and these restrictions have been reduced to a minor problem.

"I believe it ought to be possible to remove many of the institutions that are now on the entities list, and I hope this happens," Mrs. Schaffer said. "The United States has already decided to permit civilian nuclear trade with India in spite of India's having nuclear weapons; the logic of that decision ought to permit most of the 'entities' to be removed."

She said it is up to India to decide how to meet the U.S. need to protect classified information or equipment supplied in an arms transfer.

Mr. Gates, at a Pentagon briefing last week, said this matter is "high on our list … I would like to see those restrictions eased."

Mrs. Clinton and Indian Foreign Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna discussed export controls in their meeting in New York on Monday.

Robert O. Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, said in a conference call with reporters that the two sides were looking to find a "positive way forward."

"We are not quite there yet and so we need to continue to work on that," Mr. Blake said, adding that he was confident of a positive outcome.

"The export controls and the inclusion on entities list is a significant problem and it has been an impediment, but not a huge one," said Walter Andersen, associate director of the South Asia studies program at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

"But if the U.S. could do one important thing on this upcoming visit [by President Obama to India in November], it is getting rid of the inclusion of some Indian entities on the entities list," he added.

Indian officials also are concerned about the sale of U.S. weapons and defense technology to Pakistan. The nuclear-armed South Asia neighbors have fought three wars since independence in 1947.

The U.S. has justified sales to Pakistan saying the weapons are intended to boost Islamabad's capabilities against terrorists.

"Our practical experience is [that] it is always being misused. They are diverting a portion against India," Mr. Antony said.

India's concerns are specifically related to the sale of F-16 fighter jets.

The F-16 is billed by Pakistan for counterterrorism purposes, but really has an "India objective," said Mr. Andersen.

The meetings on Tuesday are likely to be dominated by discussions on strengthening U.S.-India defense cooperation and regional issues.

India is eager to transform its defense relationship with the U.S. from a buyer-seller one to include a co-producer component.

Two U.S. firms, Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., are among the leading competitors for a $10 billion sale of 126 advanced fighter aircraft to the Indian air force. This is currently the worlds biggest defense tender.

While Boeing wants to sell the F-18 Super Hornet to India, Lockheed Martin is offering the F-16IN Super Viper.

Mr. Antony is expected to line up some defense deals ahead of Mr. Obama's visit to India.

"India has a broader set of strategic goals that require an enhanced air force and navy. Also, India needs to keep up with China, which is rapidly expanding it capabilities," Mr. Andersen said.

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