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For the US, A Strategic Partner in Asia

US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy (L) speaks on June 15, 2010 as US Army Gen. David Petraeus looks on during a hearing of the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy (L) speaks on June 15, 2010 as US Army Gen. David Petraeus looks on during a hearing of the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2010 - A senior Pentagon policy official has called for more U.S. involvement in the modernization of the armed forces of India, a country she says is a natural strategic partner playing a "critical and positive role" in Afghanistan and beyond.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy also told the Asia Society's Washington Center that closer ties between the two democracies should not be viewed warily by China.

"A safer, more secure India that is closer to the United States should not be seen a threat to China, and vice versa," she said. "Indeed, all three countries play an important role in regional stability. The United States recognizes and welcomes the growing cooperation between India and China on security affairs in recent years. And both India and the United States seek a closer relationship with China, while encouraging Beijing to be more transparent about its military capabilities and intentions."

The undersecretary said she is "a strong advocate of U.S. solutions for India's defense needs" and that "U.S. companies are eager to work with India as the Indian military continues to modernize."

She said while Defense Department officials work on expanding military-to-military ties, two U.S. corporations#8212;Boeing and Lockheed Martin—are among six competitors for a $10 billion purchase of 126 advanced fighter aircraft to the Indian air force. There are also hopes of future sales of C-17 transport planes to India.

"We understand that India is making a strategic, as well as an economic, choice when it makes defense acquisitions," Flournoy said.

"Obviously, the commercial benefits of defense sales to the U.S. economy can't be denied, but from a [Defense Department] perspective, these sales are even more important in building a strategic partnership that will allow both our countries to cooperate more effectively to protect our mutual security interests in the future. 

"Whether the scenario involves humanitarian assistance, counterterrorism cooperation or maritime security activities, having common equipment will allow more seamless cooperation."

Flournoy said the United States is committed to approving an overwhelming majority of top-line technology licenses to India as it builds its own defense industry.

She said India has been a good partner in international peacekeeping efforts and like the United States is committed to the long-term stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan.

"We know as the U.S. mission in Afghanistan evolves, we must continue to provide robust support for Afghan stability, governance, and development," Flournoy said. "India is playing a critical and positive role in Afghanistan's economic and social development and we know that help will continue."

"We highly value India's role and, frankly, the sacrifices that India has made in supporting this mission of building social and economic opportunities in Afghanistan," she said.

This Fall Flournoy will co-chair the Defense Policy Group, which is a top grouping that discusses U.S.-Indian strategic issues.

She dismissed claims by some critics that the Obama administration is not as committed to U.S.-India relations as its predecessors were.

"Other critics assert that this administration sees India solely through the lens of Afghanistan and Pakistan," she said. "Still others think that the absence of high-profile, headline-grabbing deals and accomplishments over the last 18 months suggests that we don't view this relationship as important."