No military alliance with US, say officials

Officials say projection of LEMOA as a ‘sovereignty issue’ is wrong

Updated - October 18, 2016 02:12 pm IST

Published - April 15, 2016 05:11 am IST - NEW DELHI

There is no dilution of India’s position and no military alliance with the proposed Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the U.S., highly placed officials in the government said, defending the agreement that was announced in “principle” but not concluded during U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit to India this week.

The comments came after the Congress and the Left accused the government of joining the U.S. “military bloc” by agreeing to the use of each other’s military bases.

“We have asked the government not to sign this agreement and that India’s past position of not being drawn into military blocs is respected,” Congress leader Anand Sharma said on Thursday, adding that LEMOA, traditionally called a Logistical Support Agreement (LSA), that was first proposed by the U.S. in 2004 was considered “intrusive, and akin to an alliance” and hence had been rejected by the UPA government.

Defence and External Ministry officials told The Hindu that the projection of LEMOA as a “sovereignty issue” was a “misrepresentation,” and that Indian and U.S. military troops would access each other’s facilities more for “technical than political reasons.”

In particular, a senior official said the need for the LSA was felt during humanitarian rescue efforts such as Operation Raahat that evacuated Indian citizens from Yemen last year.

“It was felt by the defence forces that we had a difficult time getting supplies, spares and repair facilities we wanted on time, and it would have been easier if we could have accessed U.S. facilities in the region,” the official said.

The LSA was brought back into discussion along with two other so-called “foundational agreements” CISMOA and BECA after Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s visit to the U.S. in December.

In February, 2015, a Department of Defence team visited Delhi to negotiate the terms of the agreement. However, India’s upset over the U.S. announcement at the same time of the sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan slowed talks down, officials said. “The F-16 issue was a dampener on our system and politically, the LSA signing was also impacted by it,” a senior diplomat told The Hindu .

For the U.S., the failure of Mr. Carter’s visit to conclude the LEMOA/LSA agreement, and another on sharing commercial shipping information came as a surprise, sources said. This was the U.S. Defence Secretary’s second visit in a year, a rare occurrence for a senior official, and it was believed to have been undertaken only so as to sign the major agreement.

According to reports, the agreement may yet be signed if Prime Minister Narendra Modi decides to visit Washington later this year for a farewell visit to President Obama. “Barring a little paperwork, the deal [LEMOA] has been negotiated to mutual satisfaction and is ready to sign whenever the leadership decides,” the senior official said.

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