India, US working very closely to implement N-deal: Blake

Washington: India and the US, which enjoy "a truly global" strategic partnership, are working very closely to implement their landmark civilian nuclear deal despite the recent radiation crisis in Japan`s quake-hit Fukushima atomic power plant, a top State Department official has said.

It is too early to say what effect Japan`s atomic crisis is going to have on India`s nuclear programme, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing.

"…I think India does remain very much committed to carrying out its nuclear programme, because it has such huge energy needs that are going to be needed to support its growing economy and its growing population," he said.

"So we continue to work very closely with our Indian friends to carry out the civil nuclear deal and I think they remain committed to it. We haven`t received any indications of that (India would not go ahead with its nuclear energy plans)," Blake said.

The top official`s remarks came in response to a question in this regard from Congressman Gary Ackerman.

"India suffered a huge catastrophe in Bhopal, chemical spill. If you take a look at what`s happening in Japan, it`s actually frightening. We have helped in India with our 123 nuclear agreement to provide for nuclear energy. One of their thoughts in doing that was so that they are less reliant on the possibility of doing business with Iran and buying crude from Iran," Ackerman said.

He asked If India decides to be as cautious as most countries are and slows down its nuclear and civilian energy projects, how likely is it that Iran will be higher on their radar for supplying the energy that they so voraciously need to consume?

In his reply, Blake said: "In terms of India`s continued reliance on Iran for oil and gas — India presently imports about 15 per cent of its oil from Iran. I think that actually our sanctions and the international sanctions have had some impact, because big companies like Reliance increasingly are reading the tea leaves and understand that they have to make a choice."

"They have to make a strategic choice between trading with Iran and trading with the United States in the broader world. Increasingly, they are moving towards us and I think that is a very, very positive sign and it also puts pressure on the Iranians. So I actually think that the trends are good in this respect," Blake said.

Blake also said the strategic partnership with India will remain among top American foreign policy priorities.

"As the (US) President told the Indian Parliament last year, with India assuming its rightful place in the world, we have a historic opportunity to make this relationship between our countries a defining partnership for the century ahead," the Obama Administration`s pointman for South and Central Asia told the Congressmen.

Blake said the US and India enjoy a truly global strategic partnership now, thanks to President Barack Obama`s recent visit in November of 2010.

"India`s 8 per cent growth rate makes it the world`s second-fastest-growing major economy today. During the President`s visit, he announced trade deals that exceeded USD 14.9 billion in total value, with USD 9.5 billion in US export content supporting almost 54,000 jobs," he said.

"India`s also among the fastest-growing sources of investment into the United States. In the last decade, investment capital coming from India to the United States grew at an annualised rate of 53 per cent, reaching 4.4 billion (dollars) in 2009," Blake said.

Responding to questions from lawmakers, Blake said one of the most important trends in India over the last 10 years is that they want to be a responsible global power and they want to help to manage the international system.

"So I think that we are going to see an evolution in their voting patterns. I think we`ve already seen some evolution in their voting patterns, and I expect that to continue," Blake said in response to a question on India`s voting pattern at the UN, which very often is different than that of the United States.

In his written testimony before a Congressional committee, Blake said with the fulcrum of geopolitics shifting quickly to Asia, India plays an increasingly critical role in America`s strategic thinking.

"The rise of India is in our best interest, and its growth redounds with benefits to our own economy. For instance, during the President`s historic visit to India in November, he announced commercial deals that exceeded USD 14.9 billion in total value with USD 9.5 billion in US export content, supporting an estimated 53,670 jobs."

These deals reflect a snapshot in what is a growing continuum of mutually beneficial private sector and government deals between the two robust, open, democratically-driven societies, he said.

"Given India`s demography, burgeoning economy, and projected needs, we expect our export numbers to India to continue rising dramatically. We estimate that India`s infrastructure needs alone ? for sea ports, airports, roads, bridges, energy, hospitals, and the like ? will reach a staggering USD 1.7 trillion. We will facilitate increased economic engagement to take advantage of this opportunity," he said.

Blake said the two militaries enjoy a robust series of exchanges, visits and exercises that create critical linkages between personnel and further deepen habits of cooperation.

"From counter-piracy to disaster relief, our two militaries have much to gain from each other especially in light of the similar challenges we both face in the Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific region," he said.

Touching upon US defence sales to India, which have skyrocketed over the last decade, Blake said the value of these sales is not just the dollar figure ? they both represent and strengthen deeper levels of cooperation between the two militaries and facilitate building people-to-people ties. India has purchased more than USD 4 billion of US defence hardware over the last decade.

"The Indian government is also in the final stages of finalising a USD 4.1 billion sale for ten C-17 Globemaster heavy-lift transport aircraft ? a deal announced during the President`s recent visit. This deal will double US-India defence trade and support more than 20,000 US jobs," he said.

Once all these aircraft have been delivered, India will have the second largest C-17 fleet in the world, behind that of the United States, providing the Indian Air Force with a strategic airlift and humanitarian response capability unique in the region, he added.

"Two American aircraft, the F/A 18 Super Hornet and F-16IN Viper, are among the contenders for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition, a USD 11 billion tender which we hope will further enhance strategic, military and economic ties between the US and India," Blake said.

"With India expected to spend more than USD 45 billion on military modernisation over the next five years, we hope the merits of American technology will continue to outshine the competition," said the US official.