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Look at the larger context: U.S.

Saturday 26 March 2005, by KRISHNASWAMI*Sridhar

WASHINGTON, MARCH 26. The Bush administration is asking India to look at the "larger context" and framework of the sale of F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan. The sale of the jets to Islamabad, according to the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, "shouldn’t be understood in isolation" for Washington was trying to "solidify and extend relations" with both New Delhi and Islamabad at a time when good relations existed with both countries.

"...What I talked about when I was in India was broadening and deepening our relationship, for instance, in defence cooperation, broadening and deepening our relationship in energy cooperation," Dr. Rice said in an interview to The Washington Post.

Asked if the latter category included nuclear power plants, Dr. Rice said: "Well, we’re a step from that certainly but looking at their energy needs and trying to understand how they can be met... We have had this NSSP, we’re going to have phase 2 of that... We have a lot going on with India."

In the context of the sale of the F-16s, it was also necessary to demonstrate to India that the U.S. would be a "reliable defence supplier" if New Delhi chose to shop in Washington. She pointed out that as India had a tender for high performance aircraft, the U.S. would respond to the information requests and allow its companies to bid for the order.

"Not a hyphenated relationship"

"They (India) are already acquiring American defence equipment, for instance the P-3 Orion is pretty far along. So, if you look at it in terms of the region, what we are trying to do is break out of the notion that this is a hyphenated relationship somehow that anything that happens that’s good for Pakistan has to be bad for India and vice versa," Dr. Rice maintained.

She did not think that it was a contradiction that the F-16s were being sold to a regime in Pakistan that got rid of democracy in that country. "...We will work with the Pakistanis on their defence needs at the same time we will work with them on the road to democracy. It is not even/or.

There is no contradiction between working with states and having a principled stand on democracy and insisting that they also be on a democratic path," she said.

Senior Bush administration officials said that if India looked at the context and the framework, "it’s not the same framework in which they were looking at that issue years ago. It’s a different framework."

In terms of the strategic dialogue with India, senior officials here said this would include global issues that one would discuss with a "world power"; regional security issues and defence requirements, high-tech cooperation "expanding the current High Technology Cooperation Group and manufacturing licences, even working towards U.S.-India defence co-production."

Administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the U.S. would respond positively to India’s request for information on a bid for the next generation multi-role combat aircraft and that Washington would work with American companies to compete for this sale.

"That’s not just F-16s. It could be F-18s. But beyond that the U.S. is ready to discuss even more fundamental issues of defence transformation with India, including transformative systems in areas such as command and control, early warning and missile defence," a senior official remarked.

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