U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has said India should be given time and space to define the nature of its relationship with the U.S., indicating that the Obama administration was willing to patiently wait for the new government to decide on its course of action.
Hours before he landed in New Delhi on Thursday, Mr. Hagel told reporters travelling with him that the U.S. was mindful of the sensitivity of India’s independence.
“It has been an independent non-aligned nation since it became a democracy. We respect that. We take note of that. The people of India, like the people of any nation, deserve their decision-making space, and how they want not only their country to be perceived, but what foreign arrangements they want to make based on their terms,” he said on Thursday.
“I do think that there is always an issue when the greatest power on earth, the United States, develops relationships with countries. No country wants to be seen as a second cousin to the U.S. or any country. And that’s as it should be. So that’s not an issue,” he said.
He said the Obama administration must find ways to adjust India’s political requirements and handle its relationships, with the U.S. It always must be seen, like any arrangement, as an agreement on a project or a deal or a sale as good for both sides, he said.
Any decision India makes and any decision the U.S. makes, any decision any nation makes, is always and must be always predicated on the self-interest of that country, he said.
“I think that the promise, the potential of that nuclear agreement with India was not fulfilled to its full potential certainly as quickly as the United States had hoped, and I suspect India had hoped, but we always have to adjust and adapt and be patient with the realities of internal governments and their people,” he said.
Mr. Hagel said he hoped to present some new potentials during his meetings for ways the two countries could further connect with their own common interests.
“Over the last few years, we’ve done more joint exercises in military-to-military than we ever have. Our militaries have a very good relationship. India keeps its non-aligned status, its independent status. But that does not at all indicate they are disconnected from the world or the region, but that’s for them to decide,” he added.
Mr. Hagel said he was hoping for renewal of the Defence Framework Agreement, which expires next year, in his meetings with the Indian leaders.
“Second to see if we can make some progress on getting a better understanding from the Indians what specific projects they may have interest in that fit within the framework of the defence, trade and technology initiative,” he said.
“We’ve been working closely with the Indian governments at different levels on advancing these proposals that are on the table,” he said.
“Some I suspect have a more resounding interest by the Indians than others. I’d like to try to see if I can narrow those interests,” he said.
“India has many options to do many things with different partners on all fronts, and we’re well aware of that. So this is a high priority. It’s a high priority for me to continue to build on progress that we’ve made in the past,” he added.
Referring to the recent decisions by the Modi government to increase FDI in defence sector to 49 per cent, Mr. Hagel said “One of the things I want to see if I can understand more is more clarity on some of the numbers that have been laid down out there”.
“Ownership of up to 49 per cent, but what are the guidelines on that? How is that to be implemented? What’s the potential to go beyond that? So those would be areas that I will have an opportunity to explore”.