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US sees greater Indian role in Malacca Straits

The US sees a greater role for the Indian Navy in one of the world's busiest sea-lanes.

india Updated: May 23, 2006 15:12 IST

The US sees a greater role for the Indian Navy in the Malacca Straits region, one of the world's busiest sea-lanes, a top US admiral said Tuesday.

"Let me make it very clear - the US is not interested in patrolling the region. It is for the littoral states (of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia) to do so. India and Japan also have a more active role to play," Admiral Gary Roughead, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said.

India and Japan are already conducting joint patrols in the region.

"Global prosperity depends on the free flow of commerce on the seas," Roughead said.

Some 50,000 vessels pass every year through the Malacca Straits, an 800-km long waterway that links Asia with the Middle East and Europe. It carries some 40 per cent of the world's trade, including 80 percent of South Korea's and Japan's oil and gas and 80 per cent of China's oil.

During his visit, Roughead met Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the Indian Navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, to discuss greater interaction between the two navies.

"We will continue to advance our relationship. I believe we can do good things for our navies," he said, pointing out that the Indian Navy had been invited to depute observers for two major exercises - Valiant Shield and Rimpac - to be held in the Pacific later this year.

"We have also invited India to post a liaison officer at the Pacific Command headquarters (at Honolulu) and are awaiting a response on this," Roughead said.

The US admiral responded positively when asked whether the two navies had reached a stage of coordination.

"We enjoy a rather unique position in that we can come together at short notice (as happened in the wake of the December 26, 2004, killer tsunami)," he pointed out.

This was also reflected in the impromptu exercise conducted by the INS Viraat and USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carriers of the two navies off the Sri Lankan coast earlier this year.

"It wasn't planned. Ronald Reagan was transiting the area. Viraat was in the region. We got together for a quick exercise," the admiral said.

"As I often say - practice, practice, practice. Through exchange of methods, we will devise procedures that we both will benefit from," said Roughead, who spent two-and-a-half years of his childhood in Mumbai where his father, an executive with a US oil company, was posted.

"I was there from two-and-a-half to five. I was very young. All I remember is that the house we lived in seemed huge. I was very much taken in by the vastness and the beauty of the surroundings," he said.