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India Abroad Correspondent in Washington
The irrepressible 'Mr India', Congressman Frank Pallone, took to the House floor on Thursday to predict that a defence partnership between the United States and India is on the horizon following Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's visit to New Delhi to brief Indian officials on President George W Bush's proposed National Missile Defence system.
Pallone, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said it was time for the world's two greatest democracies to come together as natural allies.
"Ultimately, I would like to see India and the US form a stable defence alliance. Such an alliance would help secure our national security and those of our allies while isolating nations such as China, which pose a threat to India and other Asian democracies."
The New Jersey Democrat, who represents a constituency with a sizeable Asian Indian population, pointed to the positive signs that had emerged from Armitage's visit and his comments that he was "delighted" with the warm support and co-operation extended by the Indian government on various matters, including defence and military collaboration.
Pallone said that with the end of the Cold War, "we have no reason to perceive India as a threat. In fact, India and the US have many similar democratic interests and as a result, both countries could work together well against the threat from a military buildup in China or from rogue nations in Asia that threaten American interests."
The lawmaker cited the incident last month, when Chinese authorities detained a US surveillance plane and military personnel, as proof that stark differences exist between America and China's communist regime.
He also noted that the documented proof that the Chinese have transferred missile technologies to rogue nations, and its commitment to helping Pakistan develop its military, highlights the need to have India as an ally in the region.
"Threats to US security loom large in Asia," he said. "Pakistan is politically unstable, is full of terrorism as documented in the US annual terrorism report, and is moving further away from a return to civilian government."
Pallone continued, "The central Asia region is brewing with the extensive Osama bin Laden networks, which hold another comprehensive threat to US security and regional interests."
He said he was pleased that US-India defence relationships have increased under the Bush administration, and pointed to External Affairs and Defence Minister Jaswant Singh's visit to Washington last month, when President Bush made commitments to build on the relationship, as well as the prompt scheduling of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Henry H Shelton's visit to India later this month as strong indicators for the future.
Pallone, however, said the first thing that has to be done for India-US relations to really take off is to lift all remaining sanctions imposed on India after its May 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests.
"Many American and Indian scholars as well as officials from the Department of State have now acknowledged that the sanctions are doing more harm to American companies doing business in India than to India itself," he said.
"Removal of the sanctions will allow us to engage in a more comprehensive relationship with India," he added.
Senator Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations
Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, had echoed similar sentiments during a confirmation hearing for Christina Rocca, President Bush's nominee to head the state department's south Asia bureau.
"Our economic and political relations with India are poised to take off and we need to do everything we can to promote development in India," Brownback said, adding, "We stand to benefit as much, if not more, than the Indians themselves."
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