NEW DELHI (AP) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in India Thursday to press for a number of new weapons agreements, including a pilot plan for the two nations to jointly develop a next-generation anti-tank missile.
The development initiative is part of a broader U.S. effort to improve what has often been a rocky relationship with India, the world’s largest democracy and a major player in Asia.
Hagel’s visit follows a similar stop in the country last week by Secretary of State John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker aimed at wooing a key ally in Asia, in part as a possible countermeasure to China. Hagel plans to meet with top Indian leaders and business executives and explore plans for the co-development of a Javelin missile that is cheaper, lighter and more capable.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him Thursday en route to New Delhi, Hagel said he recognizes India’s intent to maintain its independence and develop its own industrial base.
“No country wants to be seen as a second-cousin” to the United States, Hagel said, adding that the U.S. must find ways to “adjust to what India’s political requirements are, how they want to handle the relationship.”
Hagel also expects to meet with newly elected India Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi was denied an American visa in 2005 after being accused of complicity in religious riots that killed more than 1,000 Muslims three years earlier in the country’s western Gujarat state, where he was serving as the top elected official. “India has many options to do many things with different partners,” said Hagel. “This is a high priority for me.”
Hagel said he also wants to talk about doing more joint military exercises with India and get a better understanding of what projects India wants to pursue with the U.S. The U.S. wants to partner with India as it modernizes its military, but India seems more interested in co-development opportunities than in simply buying American-made weapons. Accompanying Hagel in India is Frank Kendall, the defense undersecretary for acquisition who is leading the new initiative.
Foreign military sales to India have grown substantially in recent years, totaling more than $9 billon since 2008 and including cargo planes, helicopters and missiles.
But progress on other agreements has been slow. In recent years, the U.S. and India have sparred over a wide range of issues, from trade deals and visa restrictions to the regulation of chemical emissions into the environment.
The war in Afghanistan has also frayed relations with India as the U.S. pursued an often uneasy alliance with Pakistan, pressing Islamabad to go after Taliban insurgents launching attacks against coalition forces across the Afghan border. Pakistan and India — both nuclear-armed — have battled in three major wars since their partition in 1947. But more recently, they have taken some steps to improve relations.
This is the second stop on Hagel’s trip, which will also include a visit to Australia.
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