24 September 2008 National

Misinformation campaign on growing Indo-US defence ties: Antony

New Delhi, Sept 24 (PTI) Defence Minister A K Antony today took a snipe at critics of the growing India-US defence cooperation, saying a "misinformation campaign" was going on.

"Last year, some people (read Left parties) said it sent a message. The Malabar series of Indo-US naval exercise invited a lot of criticism. Why should some people try to spread misinformation (on India and US militaries exercising frequently)," Antony told reporters after attending the Coast Guard Commanders Conference here.

Stating that a policy decision had been taken to hold only bilateral exercise in the Malabar series between Indian and US Navies, he said last year, it was different, as a multi-lateral exercise involving the Australian, Japanese and Singaporean ships took place.

"Only last year, something different happened. Instead of an Indo-US bilateral exercise, a multilateral exercise took place. This year there is no multilateral exercise. But would be a bilateral one, similar to what has been happening for the last 16 years," he said.

When asked if the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan would be part of the Malabar exercise this year, the minister said he would not be able to name the ships participating in the bilateral naval exercise right now.

Noting that Malabar exercise was a regular feature between Indian and US navies and that it was nothing new, Antony appealed to critics "not to spread misinformation," on the exercise series started in 1992.

Asked about his recent US visit, Antony said he had held detailed discussion with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on defence relations between New Delhi and Washington, and also about the security scenario in India's neighbourhood.

"My visit to US was mainly a return visit. Secretary Gates was here this year and during his visit, he invited me to the US. He also wrote to me, inviting me to that country. So it was mainly a goodwill, return visit," he said.

To a question whether there were bilateral agreements worked out during the trip, the minister said his was an open visit and there was nothing secret about it.

On the coming three-day visit by Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov from September 28, Antony said his Moscow counterpart would be here to co-chair the Inter-Governmental Commission for Military and Technical Cooperation, a unique arrangement that India has only with Russia.

"Last year, the IGCMT was held in Moscow, which I attended and this year, my Russian counterpart will be coming to New Delhi for the Commission meeting to be held on September 29," he added.

On the possibility of renewed price negotiations for the INS Vikramaditya (Gorshkov) during the meeting between the two Defence Ministers, Antony retorted: "Please wait for the commission to meet."

On frequent incidents of Lankan Navy firing at Tamil Nadu fishermen, the Defence minister said India took up the issue with Sri Lanka at the highest level whenever such complaints had come up.

"We want to maintain cordial relations with Sri Lanka. India is committed to the unity and integrity of the island nation and at the same time, we are also concerned about the welfare and security of Indian fishermen," he added.

Pointing out that India consistently stood for a negotiated settlement to Sri Lanka's internal strife, the Defence Minister said: "We feel military option is not the solution for Sri Lanka. We feel negotiations should be held. That is India's stand consistently."

Antony also refused to comment on the reported remarks of US Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama that Pakistan was using US' war-on-terror funds against India. "I am not here to react to what he (Barack Obama) said there (in US).

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OUTLOOK 24 September, 2008