The US on Tuesday said it now recognised India as a “major defence partner” and would grant technological access similar to the one given to its closest allies, a move hailed as a big leap in bilateral ties.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar hailed it as a “notable development” while briefing the media on the third summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama. The new arrangement, India’s top diplomat, said would allow India “more liberal access to dual-use technology”.
Another Indian official, who didn’t want to be identified, called it “a big leap” for the promise of doing more in the defence sector under Modi’s flagship Make in India initiative. Recently in an interview to the Wall Street Journal, the Indian Prime Minister had identified defence manufacturing as the biggest job spinner.
Obama and Modi also welcomed the start of the preparatory work on six nuclear reactors, a key step towards closing the first deal based on the landmark US-India civil nuclear agreement signed eight years ago.
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India and US firm Westinghouse will begin engineering and site design work for the AP1000 nuclear reactors and conclude contractual arrangements by June 2017.
India and the US Export-Import Bank will work on a competitive financing package for the project, the two leaders said in a statement.
After their hour-long meeting in the morning, Modi thanked “my friend Obama” for supporting India’s membership of world bodies that control trade in sensitive technologies, such as the nuclear suppliers group and the missile technology control regime, which admitted New Delhi as a member on Monday.
The NSG, a 48-member club of nuclear trading nations, votes later this month on India’s application. The US is supporting India but China is opposing it on the ground that New Delhi is not a part of the non-proliferation regime. All 48 members must vote a yes to let India in.
Obama appreciated India’s leadership on the signing of the Paris agreement on climate change and said the two leaders “discussed how we can, as quickly as possible, bring the Paris agreement into force”. He also talked about making progress on climate-change financing mechanism to help India embark on Modi’s “bold vision” for solar energy.
Climate change is a legacy issue for the US President who leaves office in January.
“India and the United States recognise the urgency of climate change and share the goal of enabling entry into force of the Paris agreement as early as possible,” the joint statement said.
According to US officials cited by local media, the two countries agreed on a “shared approach” to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the “super greenhouse gas” that warms the planet significantly even in small amounts.
“Modi and Obama deserve credit for not shying away from historically contentious issues, like curbing dangerous hydrofluorocarbons,” said Andrew Steer, the president and CEO of World Resources Institute. “Today’s announcement signals that the US and India are overcoming the few remaining differences between them.”