Tue, Jul 21, 2009 - Page 1 News List

India expected to sign defense pact during Clinton visit


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hoped to seal a defense pact boosting US arms sales to India in talks yesterday that should also see agreement on the location of two US nuclear reactors.

On the business end of her five-day visit to India, Clinton met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and was to meet later with Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna for talks aimed at deepening strategic US ties with an emerging player on the world stage.

Washington is especially hopeful of sealing a key accord on “end-use monitoring” that would provide safeguards for the sale of highly sophisticated US weaponry to India.

The agreement would be welcomed by Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co who are both competing with Russian, French and Swedish companies for a massive US$12 billion tender to provide 126 jets to the Indian Air Force.

Yesterday’s talks were also expected to see India announce the proposed sites for the building of two multi-billion dollar US nuclear power plants — the fruit of a landmark civilian nuclear deal India sealed with former US president George W. Bush last year.

“We’re very hopeful the Indians make the announcement on Monday,” one US official said on condition of anonymity.

Indian press reports have suggested the chosen sites are in the Indian states of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robert Blake said last week that the deal was a “major opportunity for American companies, and opens up as much as US$10 billion worth of exports to India.”

The Wall Street Journal, quoting people familiar with the issue, said the announcement probably will not lead to immediate contracts for firms like GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse Electric Co to begin building plants.

In October, then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and her Indian counterpart, Pranab Mukherjee, signed a pact to open up sales of civilian nuclear technology to India for the first time in three decades.

The deal offers India access to US technology and cheap atomic energy in return for allowing UN inspections of some of its civilian nuclear facilities — but not military nuclear sites.

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