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US calls India 'closest ally', pledges to work for New Delhi's entry into NSG

The first-ever India-US 2+2 dialogue was held in New Delhi on Thursday.

US calls India 'closest ally', pledges to work for New Delhi's entry into NSG

NEW DELHI: Calling India its 'closest ally' and a 'major defence partner', the United States on Thursday assured full help in securing New Delhi's entry into the coveted Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

The assurance from the US Administration of President Donald Trump came during the first-ever 2+2 dialogue between India and the United States in the national capital on Thursday during which External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held wide-ranging deliberations with US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis.

Terming India as its major defence partner, United States Secretary of Defence James Mattis said that the US is elevating the defence relationship to be at par with its closest allies.

"India's leadership in the world supports our shared democratic values regionally and globally. We also recognise the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, renaming US Pacific Command to the US Indo-Pacific Command. With India as a major defence partner, we are elevating our defence relationship to be on a par with our closest allies as we deepen the broader US-India relationship, enhancing our interoperability, our defence trade, our technology innovation and industrial collaboration, and bolstering our people-to-people bonds," Mattis said while speaking to the media after the India-US 2+2 Dialogue.

"We see the US-India relationship as a natural partnership between the world's two largest democracies, a partnership that is based on the convergence of enduring strategic interests and shared respect for the rules-based order," Mattis said.

"Our discussion today is a testament to the power of free peoples. I note that over seven decades ago this week, the United States established diplomatic relations with India, prior to its formal Independence. Today, our partnership has become one of the most consequential in the region and in the world," he added.

He mentioned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement at the Shangri-La Dialogue last June that said `a commitment to common values must be shared - the foundation upon which we build a shared destiny.'

"The US and India already have that foundation in our commitment to a safe, secure, prosperous, and free Indo-Pacific region, where sovereignty of all nations is respected, international norms are upheld, disputes are resolved peacefully, and nations freely transit international waters and airspace, and further to borrow Prime Minister Modi's words again, nations are free from impossible debt burdens imposed by others," he said.

Talking about terrorism, Mattis noted that 2018 marks 10 years since the Mumbai attacks, where innocent citizens from the US as well as 10 other nations perished at the hands of international terrorism. "And we do not forget," he said. 

During the first-ever 2+2 dialogue, both India and the US agreed to work together to secure Nuclear Suppliers Group's membership for New Delhi at the earliest.

Addressing a joint press conference, Swaraj said the recent decision by the US to put India in the list of countries eligible for Strategic Trade Authorisation Tier-I License Exemption reflected India's robust and responsible export control policies.

"In our meeting today, we also agreed to work together to secure India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group at the earliest," she said.

"The United States welcomed India's accession to the Australia Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Missile Technology Control Regime and reiterated its full support for India's immediate accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group," a joint statement issued after the talks said.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is an elite club of countries that deals with the trade in nuclear technology and fissile materials. India's bid for entry into the 48-member NSG is being opposed by China citing that New Delhi is not a signatory to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Pompeo, in his remarks, hailed the civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries as an important component of their strategic partnership.

"Today also marks another milestone for our relationship. Thanks to the intense advocacy from the US, 10 years ago today, the Nuclear Suppliers Group voted to allow India to trade in civil nuclear materials and technologies.

"That vote and the subsequent section 123 civil nuclear agreement opened a path for our strategic relations to grow, bolster defence and commercial cooperation and expanded our people-to-people ties," Pompeo said.

Both sides were committed to the full implementation of the civil nuclear energy partnership and collaboration between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Company for the establishment of six nuclear power plants in India, the statement said. 

"We now look forward to what we can achieve over the next 10 years. In particular, we look forward to finalising the Westinghouse civil nuclear project that will provide clean and reliable power to millions of Indians," the US Secretary of State said. 

After the conclusion of the talks, the two sides signed crucial defence pacts and agreed to work together to combat terrorism.

(With PTI Inputs)