Cablegate: Defense Minister Upbeat On Indo-Us Relations, But
311333Z Mar 05
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 NEW DELHI 002416
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2010
TAGS: MARR MASS MCAP IN NSSP
SUBJECT: DEFENSE MINISTER UPBEAT ON INDO-US RELATIONS, BUT
USG RESPONSE TO THE MRCA RFI MAY FALL SHORT
Classified By: Ambassador David C. Mulford for reasons 1.4 (a), (b), (d
1. (C) Summary. During a 30 March meeting with Indian Defense Minister Mukherjee, Ambassador Mulford reviewed the scope and results of SECSTATE's visit, NSSP, the desire for greater defense cooperation, rationale of F-16s to Pakistan, and next steps in the MRCA competition process. Mukherjee was very receptive to the message on broadening US-Indian relations. He appreciated the Secretary's non-patronizing message of support for India's global power aspirations and expressed his desire for a deeper defense supply relationship with special emphasis on the importance of co-production and technology transfer. Mukherjee assured the Ambassador that India understood the compulsions and complexities of US decision-making vis a vis supply of F-16s to Pakistan; although, India does not agree with the decision. On the MRCA RFI, Mukherjee was pleased with the recent US response and expected US companies to compete in the tender. However, note taker Joint Secretary (P&C) Mukhopadhaya warned that the US response to the specific RFI questions appears inadequate to guarantee the USG receives the upcoming RFP. End Summary.
2. (C) Ambassador Mulford opened the meeting by highlighting the achievements of Secretary Rice's visit. He explained the overall goals of the visit and the potential that now exists to advance the security interests of both nations. Reinforcing Secretary Rice's theme that our relationship has progressed, but still more should be done to broaden it, Ambassador Mulford summarized that energy, military cooperation, space and defense sales were the key areas where the US seeks to assist India in assuming its place as a world power in the 21st century. Ambassador also highlighted the significant US-India cooperation on tsunami relief and suggested that if the PSI Core Group issue could be solved there will be a great opportunity to work together in this area.
3. (C) Turning to the notification of the F-16 sale to Pakistan, Ambassador Mulford acknowledged that the US decision has created concerns within the GOI. Ambassador then explained some of the factors which led to the decision and the deliberate approach of Secretary Rice and President Bush to consult and inform the GOI on the matter.
4. (C) Mukherjee responded by saying that in his previous dialogue with Secretary Rumsfeld he had the opportunity to explain India's view of Pakistan. This conversation had also given him a better understanding of the compulsions and complexities of the US relationship with Pakistan. He went on to say that the GOI can appreciate the relevance of Pakistan's role in the Global War on Terrorism. Mukherjee assured Ambassador that India understood the compulsions of the US to supply of F-16s to Pakistan, although, India does not agree with the decision. Mukherjee explained that despite the GOI's perceptions of the decision to supply F-16s to Pakistan, this will not stand in the way of expanded relations between India and the US. On the whole, explained Mukherjee, ""I feel our relations have entered a new phase of rapid progress in areas such as energy, politics, economics, security, and commerce."" Mukherjee further stated that he desires Indo-US relations to deepen, especially in the area of defense cooperation.
5. (C) Mukherjee was encouraged by Secretary Rice's visit to India and appreciated her conveying President Bush's desire to help India realize its goal of becoming a world power in the coming years. Mukherjee pointed out that the Secretary's message was not seen as patronizing in any way, although some media sources have characterized the initiative in this way. Referencing the USG response received from USD(P) Feith on the MRCA, Mukherjee said, ""US companies are expected to participate."" On defense cooperation in general, Mukherjee stated that ""defense equipment sales while important, do not carry the same strategic significance as co-production/technology transfer and that this type of arrangement will establish a long-term sturdy relationship."" Mukherjee explained this is a major beginning and he appreciated being told that a US briefing team would soon be coming to India to brief details on the F-16 and F-18 aircraft. Ambassador underscored that it is important that we fully understand India's equipment specification requirements and its expectations, so that we feel that have complied with India's expectations in the RFI. Ambassador underscored that we think we have complied with the RFI and now await the RFP.
6. (C) The discussion turned to the upcoming series of high level US and GOI visits scheduled to take place over the next 10 months. Mukherjee confirmed that he was also contemplating a visit to the US in late June in conjunction with the World Bengali Forum, and said India's Ambassador in Washington was working on an official program with the US Department of Defense. He also alluded that the Prime Minister may wish to delay his US visit in order to synchronize it with the UN General Assembly session.
7. (C) At the conclusion of the meeting, MOD's note-taker Joint Secretary (International Cooperation) Gautam Mukhopadhaya raised concerns that the US response to the MRCA RFI may not be sufficient to guarantee an RFP. Mukhopadhaya did not elaborate but urged that US ODC contact the Indian Air Force soonest on the matter. ODC representative LTC Denney informed Mukhopadhaya that ODC has already asked for a meeting with the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff which will take place on April 1st with DCM Robert Blake, LTC Denney and MAJ Hedden: at this meeting we will determine whether the letter provided by Mr. Feith satisfies the conditions set out in the RFI so that we will shortly receive the RFP. If additional questions are received to be answered, we will report these and seek pentagon guidance.
8. (C) Comment. Previously the Indian Air Force had stated that the intent of the RFI was to ensure USG would permit US companies to compete. Based on this fact, ODC had recommended to DSCA that the US response did not have to address the specific details highlighted in the RFI. If the USG response is deemed incomplete, the IAF may be seeking a categorical statement such as, ""the USG agrees to the terms and conditions of the RFI without reservation"", before releasing the RFP. End Comment.