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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 December, 2004, 10:19 GMT
US seeks 'stronger' ties with India
Donald Rumsfeld reviews an honour guard outside the defence ministry
The first high-level visit since President Bush's re-election
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said his country will build stronger defence ties with India.

Mr Rumsfeld was speaking in the Indian capital, Delhi, after meeting senior officials, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The talks were the first high-level contact since US President George W Bush's re-election last month.

Mr Rumsfeld's remarks came a day after India warned the US against selling F-16 fighters to arch-rival Pakistan.

"The defence relationship is a strong one and something we intend to see is further knitted together as we go forward in the months and years ahead," he said after talks with Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

But he refused to be drawn into the controversy over India's concerns about the F-16 fighter jets.

"We talked about a full range of things and I don't think I would consider that to be a central part of the discussion at all," Mr Rumsfeld told reporters.

At the weekend Mr Bush met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Washington and discussed the sale of up to 25 F-16s - a move Delhi says would be "negative" to US-India relations.

Row over arms sales

Hours before Mr Rumsfeld's arrival, India delivered an unmistakeable message that US arms supplies to Pakistan would sour relations between Delhi and Washington.

The message was delivered in forceful terms before the Indian parliament by Foreign Minister Natwar Singh.

US F-16C fighter over central Iraq (Picture: US Central Command)
The Indian message on F-16 fighters was forceful

"We have pointed out that the supply of arms to Pakistan at a time when the India-Pakistan dialogue is at a sensitive stage, would have a negative impact," Mr Singh told the lower house.

The BBC's Nick Bryant in Delhi says that given the regional tensions, arms deals involving America and Pakistan are always a practical as well as symbolic concern in Delhi.

India has been wary of the Bush administration's close relationship with President Musharraf ever since he sided with Washington to oust the Taleban in Afghanistan, our correspondent adds.

The US has yet to take a decision on the sale of the F-16s. The US Congress must assess the move, along with sales of surveillance aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

Co-operation on space and nuclear technology, and missile defence were other matters on the agenda for Mr Rumsfeld's visit.

A senior US official told the AFP agency Mr Rumsfeld would also discuss Afghanistan and Iraq and would ask for India's help in trying to end Iran's nuclear programme.

Mr Rumsfeld has not visited India since June 2002.


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