The new US ambassador to India indicated on Wednesday a 10-year-old bilateral defence cooperation agreement with India was likely to be renewed soon, fuelling hopes of greater cooperation between the two countries ahead of President Barack Obama’s Republic Day visit.
“The very fact that an US President is coming to India on a second trip so soon and is the first to be the chief guest on Republic Day is not a coincidence. The President calls the US-India relationship an indispensable partnership,” Richard Rahul Verma said at a panel discussion organised by the India chapter of the Brookings Institution.
The agreement signed in 2005 laid the foundation for greater US military sales to India as well as greater joint exercises and training between the two militaries.
The two countries have rapidly expanded military and business ties in recent years, despite discord over issues such as intellectual property rights and market access.
Washington is keen to step up cooperation across the board, seeing India as a strategic partner in the face of an increasingly powerful and assertive China.
Verma also indicated that the two nations could be looking at jointly manufacturing defence equipment soon. “In the last 10, years the defence and strategic cooperation has come so far.”
The United States is the biggest weapons supplier to India, but Indian restrictions on foreign companies owning majority stakes in defence stand in the way of closer ties.
US policy watchers view Verma’s smooth appointment as evidence of renewed US interest in repairing Indo-US ties after controversies last year. The bilateral relationship suffered a major blow when Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade was arrested on charges of human trafficking.
Verma was hopeful bilateral trade will also grow from $100 billion to about $ 500 billion in the next 10 years. “We will also partner the Indian government in their programme to set up smart cities in three states and also work with them in lowering carbon emissions,” he said.
Verma also emphasised the fact that he was the first Indian-American US ambassador to India.
“My parents, like many other immigrants before them, left India in the 1960s and came to the US with just a few dollars in their pocket and managed to raise five children,” he said.
Verma, the youngest of his siblings joined the US Air Force as law officer and served in the Judge Advocate General’s department, before moving to other branches of the US government. His father, Kamal Dev Verma, originally from Punjab, moved to the US with his wife Savitri and became a professor of English literature at the University of Pittsburg