India and the United States are taking steps in the defence and nuclear sectors to revive their flagging bilateral relationship. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will sign a $15-million early works agreement for a nuclear reactor complex in Gujarat when he meets US president Barack Obama later this month. Defence ministry sources say Pentagon number two Ashton Carter in his meeting with the defence secretary on Tuesday offered India a joint development agreement of the Javelin anti-tank missile.
The early works pact will be the centre piece of Singh’s summit with Obama in Washington. The agreement will pave the way for the purchase of a cluster of Westinghouse nuclear reactors that would be built in Gujarat. It will let both parties to share confidential information, agree on price points and begin surveys.
Carter’s offer is designed to satisfy an Indian demand that a strategic defence relationship should be about assisting India to develop an indigenous defence capacity.
The Javelin missile had foundered earlier in part because of the ministry of defence’s unhappiness with the technology transfer terms.
The expectation is that the agreement would lead to the joint production of the Javelin in a way in which India and Russia work together on the Brahmos cruise missile. The Javelin offer is awaiting a decision by defence minister AK Anthony.
The early works agreement is expected to break the gridlock that has stalled the implementation of the Indo-US nuclear agreement. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, which had stalled proceedings for several months, is reportedly on board.
The joint statement, to be issued by Singh and Obama, will also reflect “forward looking” language on India’s membership in the multilateral nonproliferation regimes, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
These are both small steps but being touted as symbolically important. Singh’s perceived failure on the US reactor front was a key reason Obama let relations slide.