Hagel Seeks to Expand US-India Defense Relations

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in New Delhi today on his first trip to India as defense chief for what he described as get-acquainted meetings with the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi while seeking to expand common interests and renew a defense framework agreement set to expire next year.

“I’m going to listen and I’m going to learn, and find if I can more ways where we can develop opportunities to work together,” Hagel told reporters aboard his plane en route to New Delhi from Germany.

Up for discussion, he said, are a number of specific projects covered by the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative, part of ongoing efforts by the Obama administration that began two years ago aimed at taking U.S.-India defense cooperation to a new level.

“We are doing more than we’ve ever done military to military with India with joint exercises. We want to continue to build on those exercises. It’s a high priority for me to continue to build on progress that we’ve made in the past.”

During meetings with Indian leaders tomorrow, Hagel is expected to discuss areas in which the interests of both countries can be expanded.

“One is to see if I can help advance a renewal of the defense framework agreement,” the secretary said. “Second, to see if we can make some progress on getting a better understanding from the Indians what specific projects they may have interest in that fit within the framework of the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative.”

Issues include a civil nuclear agreement the United States signed with India in 2005. “The promise, the potential, of that nuclear agreement with India was not fulfilled to its full potential certainly as quickly as the United States had hoped, and I suspect India had hoped,” Hagel said.

Security issues affecting the subcontinent and how they affect the U.S.-India relationship also are on the agenda.

China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations], Pacific Asia — all those realities will come up,” the secretary said.

Hagel’s trip to New Delhi comes just a week after a visit by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. Both visits are intended to prepare for a White House visit by Modi next month.

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