US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's talks with India's foreign minister covered regional defense issues, including the possible sale of US fighter jets to India's long-standing rival, Pakistan. India is the first stop on Ms. Rice's six-nation tour of Asia - her first trip to the region since becoming secretary of state.
Secretary of State Rice says she discussed the potential sale of F-16 fighter-jets to Pakistan with Indian officials, who have long opposed the plan. She also talked about selling the jets to India. But Ms. Rice said at news conference Wednesday in New Delhi it is too soon to expect any deals to be signed with either country. She said, "We are going to continue to have broad discussions about the security needs, about the defense needs of India. I'm quite certain that when I go to Pakistan that I will have discussions about the defense concerns and the defense needs of Pakistan. But there has been no such agreement … and as I've said to you, I don't expect that there are going to be any announcements out of this."
Pakistan wants to buy U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, which Islamabad officials say will help combat terrorism by giving military forces better access to the country's mountainous border regions. New Delhi opposes the plan, fearing the jets could be used against India. The two nations have fought three wars since British colonial rule ended in 1947. Washington suspended most weapons sales to Pakistan in 1990 because of its nuclear program and imposed further sanctions against both India and Pakistan in 1998 after the two countries tested nuclear devices. Most sanctions were lifted after 2001, when the war on terrorism began. Despite concerns about the F-16s, Foreign Minister Natwar Singh says the matter has little effect on India's overall relationship with the US. He added, "We did express certain concerns about certain matters of the defense issue as to how it might create some complications but I think there are no serious differences of opinion. There are one or two items on which we don't agree, (but) our relationship has now reached a maturity that we have discussed these things freely and frankly." During her news conference with Mr. Singh, Ms. Rice also praised both India and Pakistan for progress they have made in peace talks, which resumed a year ago. The two nuclear powers both claim the divided border region of Kashmir in its entirety. The dispute over Kashmir brought the two nations close to war again in 2002. During her visit, Ms. Rice expressed to India the United States' opposition to plans for building a fuel pipeline from Iran. Washington objects to the deal in part because of its concerns that Iran is building nuclear weapons, and Ms. Rice expressed the need for dialogue on how India can meet its energy needs in other ways. Ms. Rice is on a six-nation tour of Asia, which includes stops in Pakistan and Afghanistan.