NATIONAL

India aspires for greater strategic autonomy: Saran

NEW DELHI, MARCH 17. India aspires to achieve a greater strategic autonomy for itself after emerging as a major economic player, the Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, said today. "The current assumption is that India's ambitions will mesh in with U.S. objectives," he said at a dialogue on India-U.S. relations.

Arguing that India wanted to occupy a larger strategic space in the world, Mr. Saran said that India favoured a more balanced world order among the major players. Referring to Wednesday's talks with the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, he said that it was no accident that she had talked of India's growing energy requirements.

Without referring to the controversy created by Dr. Rice around the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline deal, Mr. Saran said India's differences with the international community on nuclear energy matters were known.

According to Mr. Saran, India needs to tap nuclear energy for its growth. "Either the international community can be helpful or it can be obstructive," he said stressing that Washington had dropped its "theological no" in discussing nuclear issues with India. "This is a problem and we need to talk about energy issues."

The recent, post-tsunami coordination between India and the U.S. was part of the security cooperation between the two countries. The military-to-military contacts had not, however, been extended to defence technology and hardware, he said.

Floating the idea of defence research between India and the U.S. in India, Mr. Saran said that American majors such as IBM and General Electric had a presence in India. Could something also happen on the defence side?

Defence supplies

Admitting that the licensing and patent issues could come in the way of such research cooperation between the two sides, he pointed out that India was privatising its defence production as well.

As far as the purchase of hardware from the U.S. was concerned, the history of the relationship was not so positive. From India's point of view, the predictability and reliability of defence supplies was the key. New Delhi wanted to ensure that defence supplies would not be shut off suddenly by Washington. Mr. Saran referred to the fact that Dr. Rice had spoken of the U.S. as a reliable partner on the defence front in her public and private interactions on Wednesday.

India was interested in purchasing high technology items from the U.S. The Air Force was looking to purchase as many as 120 multipurpose fighter aircraft. Few countries had such resources to purchase defence hardware.

Landmark visit

Describing Dr. Rice's stopover as a "landmark visit," Mr. Saran said that though the tag of strategic partnership was being attached to many bilateral relationships, the India-U.S. equation could be described as a strategic partnership. The U.S. President, George W. Bush, was personally committed to taking India-U.S. relations forward and New Delhi looked forward to welcoming him in India.

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