US Def Sec in India to discuss Defence deals

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New Delhi, Feb 26 (UNI) Indo-US Defence ties are set to touch new heights with the arrival of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates here today for talks with Indian leaders and to pitch for a 10.2 Billion Dollar deal for fighter jets.

Mr Gates arrived this afternoon from Indonesia on a two-day visit, his first after taking over as the Defence Secretary.

The US is hoping to expand on ''The best military-to-military relationship the United States has with any country in the world,'' US officials said.

''We already have a very ambitious schedule of exchanges and exercises that is growing in size and sophistication. Clearly the defense trade relationship is growing. So I think that there are a number of areas where there is potential for cooperation,'' the Defence Secretary said at a press conference this morning.

India has invited proposals worth about one billion dollars for 312 helicopters for its air force and army.

The future of military-to-military relationships between India and the US will be the main topic to be discussed.

Mr Gates met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and discussed with them a whole range of issues including the Civilian Nuclear Deal and defence ties.

He is scheduled to meet Defence Minister A K Antony, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan and Leader of Opposition L K Advani tomorrow. With Mr Advani he is likely to raise the issue of the Civilian Nuclear deal which is being opposed by the BJP in and outside Parliament.

The two countries conduct naval exercises annually, considered one of the largest in the world, involving the navies of five countries and 30 vessels.

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