Trump administration clears sale of drones to India ahead of Modi visit

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The Donald Trump administration has approved the sale of 22 unarmed drones for naval surveillance to India ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to the US.

The approval was announced by the manufacturer on Friday.

“We are pleased that the US government has cleared the way for the sale of the MQ-9B Guardian to the Indian government,” General Atomics Aeronautical Systems chief executive Linden Blue said in a statement.

The drones will cost an estimated $2 billion and India will be the first country outside Nato to acquire them.

The White House, which previewed the upcoming meeting between Modi and Trump on Friday, had refused to confirm the sale, saying they cannot discuss a pending or potential defence deal before notifying the US Congress as a matter of policy.

 Congress, which had not been notified till late on Friday, will need to approve the deal within a specific period after being informed.

The sale of these drones was being watched closely to gauge the Trump administration’s relations with India, especially on defence trade, compared to that under the Barack Obama administration, which had declared India a major defence partner in 2016. The move had granted India the same access to its defence equipment and technologies as to its closest allies and partners.

A senior White House official who previewed the visit for reporters indicated the Trump administration fully endorsed that designation and wanted to build on the momentum in India-US defence ties of recent years.

The state department, which needed to sign off on the sale, is understood to have had reservations about the sale of such high-tech defence equipment to India and whether it could have a destabilising effect on the region.

The White House official addressed that question without specifying the defence deal or confirming the sale: “Some of the defence systems we’re talking about we don’t believe impact Pakistan.”

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source: Hindustan Times

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