New Delhi, Feb 27: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who arrived here on Feb 26 to pursue closer strategic ties with India, has expressed hope that the much-touted Indo-US civil nuclear deal will become reality.
"I think the civil nuclear initiative is a very good deal for both countries both India and the United States. I am here to see how we can expand the military to military relationship independent of the Civil Nuclear Agreement," he told reporters while visiting the Humayun's Tomb. According to analysts, Gates is visiting India to make a last ditch effort to seek support for the nuclear deal gasping for breath.
Gates' visit to New Delhi also reflects the interest of both the US and India to counterbalance the rise of China, defence officials said.
In meetings with Indian officials over two days, Gates will make a sales pitch for US defence manufacturers competing against international rivals for a fighter jet contract potentially worth 10.2 billion dollars. Gates said his visit looked to further develop military to military relations with India.
"We have a very ambitious agenda of military-military relations and I'm extremely impressed by how much the relationship has grown over the last three years since the signing of the Defence framework agreement in 2005. We have a broad array of interactions between the American and Indian military," said Gates.
Earlier this month, India agreed to buy six Lockheed Martin Corp C-130J military transport planes worth about one billion dollars. India now wants to buy 126 multi-role fighter jets, and US manufacturers Lockheed and Boeing Co. are competing for the contract.
Also in the race are Russia's MiG-35, France's Dassault Rafale, Sweden's Saab KAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish companies. Gates' visit to New Delhi comes a week before India's March 3 deadline for bids.
Gates also met External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Gates is scheduled to meet various Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defense Minister A.K.Antony, leader of opposition L K Advani and Congress Party Chief Sonia Gandhi on Feb 27.