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. US unveils plans to make India 'major world power'
WASHINGTON (AFP) Mar 26, 2005
The United States unveiled plans Friday to help India become a "major world power in the 21st century" even as it announced moves to beef up the military of New Delhi's nuclear rival, Pakistan.

Under the plans, Washington offered to step up a strategic dialogue with India to boost missile defense and other security initiatives as well as high-tech cooperation and expanded economic and energy cooperation.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has presented to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the Bush administration's outline for a "decisively broader strategic relationship" between the world's oldest and largest democracies, a senior US official said.

"Its goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We understand fully the implications, including military implications, of that statement."

He did not elaborate but noted that South Asia was critical, with China on one side, Iran and the Middle East on the other, and a somewhat turbulent Central Asian region to the north.

The US-India plan was announced as Washington decided Friday to sell an undetermined number of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan under a plan to prop up Pakistan on the political, military and economic fronts.

Rice discussed the US-India plan with Singh during her Asian visit earlier this month but it was not revealed to the public.

The US proposal culminates efforts to repair relations strained by India's May 1998 nuclear tests.

The healing process began when Bill Clinton visited India in March 2000 near the end of his presidency, as the first president to go there since Jimmy Carter in 1978. He eased sanctions on purchases of high-tech equipment and broke into a market formerly served by India's Cold War ally Russia.

President George W. Bush's administration, under a so-called "Next Steps in Strategic Partnership," pushed that process forward by completely lifting sanctions, including military sales, in return for India's support on the US-led war on terrorism.

"This year the administration made a judgment that the 'Next Steps in Strategic Partnership,' though very important, wasn't broad enough to really encompass the kind of things we needed to do to take this relationship where it needed to go, and so the president and the secretary (Rice) developed the outline for a decisively broader strategic relationship," the US official said.

Bush was inviting Prime Minister Singh to visit him in July in Washington and the US leader would also like to travel to South Asia later this year or early next year, he said.

Those presidential meetings, he added, would "be consolidating an enhanced dialogue" on the strategic, energy and economic tracks with India.

The strategic dialogue will include global issues, regional security matters, Indian defense requirements, expanding high-tech cooperation and even working toward US-India defense co-production, the official explained.

The United States, he said, was prepared to "respond positively" to an Indian request for information on American initiatives to sell New Delhi the next generation of multi-role combat aircraft.

"That's not just F-16s. It could be F-18s," he said.

Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said US corporations were now "free to talk to India" about whatever aircraft they could offer.

"It'll be up to India to decide what it wants. And then negotiations, if it does decide it wants something from us, based on its needs, would proceed from there," Ereli said.

Beyond possible sale of fighter planes, the US is ready to discuss the more fundamental issue of defense transformation with India, including transformative systems in areas such as command and control, early warning and missile defense, the official said.

"Some of these items may not be as glamorous as combat aircraft, but I think for those of you who follow defense issues you'll appreciate the significance," he said.

The energy dialogue is to include civil, nuclear and nuclear safety issues as well as the issue of space launch vehicles and satellites while the existing economic dialogue would be revitalized with discussion of energy, trade, commerce, environment and finance.

US energy, treasury and transport ministers are to visit India this year.

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