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‘We work closely with India on our most vital priorities’: US

State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller (File: Photo)

Reiterating that its partnership with India is one of the most consequential relationships, the US has said it is working closely with the country on “most vital priorities”.

The remarks by State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller came hours after the Biden administration notified the US Congress on Thursday of its decision to sell 31 armed drones to India.

“I would say that our partnership with India is one of our most consequential relationships. We work closely with India on our most vital priorities,” State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters at his daily news briefing on Thursday.

Wishing outgoing Indian Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu on his future endeavors, Miller said that the US looks forward to welcoming his replacement.

“We have had a close working relationship with the ambassador, have been able to work with him on a number of those shared priorities, including the crucial role India plays in ensuring a free, open Indo-Pacific that is connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient. We wish him well in his future endeavors and look forward to welcoming his replacement,” Miller said.

The spokesperson also informed that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar share a “close working relationship”.

“They have a close working relationship, where they are able to engage on some of our most urgent and important priorities. Obviously, the Secretary has traveled to India to meet with the foreign minister on a number of occasions. He’s welcomed him here, he’s met with him in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly, and we look forward to continuing to work with him,” Miller told reporters.

On being asked about the timeline or the next steps and how important the Predator Drone deal would be, Miller said that the “exact timeline of the delivery is something that the US will explore with the India government over the coming months.

“I will say with respect to the deal itself, the $3.99 — almost 4 — billion sale of 31 MQ-9B SkyGuardian aircraft will provide India with an enhanced maritime security and maritime domain awareness capability. It offers India outright ownership and a 16-fold increase in the number of aircraft, as compared to their current lease of two MQ-9A aircraft,” Miller said.

The deal was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden in June 2023 along with joint production of GE jet engines in India.

Congress now has 30 days to either greenlight the deal by doing nothing, or reject it through a congressional vote. There is no attempt to put a “hold” on it yet, but as a person familiar with the development told IANS, “The clock starts now.”

India is buying these drones in a government-to-government deal through a process called Foreign Military Sale (FMS).