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US supports India closing missile gap with China: think tank

WASHINGTON (PTI): The US is supportive of India's efforts to close missile gap with China and is comfortable with the progress being made by New Delhi in this regard, a Washington-based think tank has said.

India's successful test of the Agni-V, a nuclear-capable long-range missile, is a major step forward for New Delhi in attaining nuclear deterrence against regional rival China, Lisa Curtis and Baker Spring of The Heritage Foundation said.

"The lack of US condemnation of India's latest missile test demonstrates that the US is comfortable with Indian progress in the nuclear and missile fields and appreciates India's need to meet the emerging strategic challenge posed by rising China," Curtis and Spring wrote in a blog.

The Agni-V has extended India's missile reach to about 5,000 kilometres, marking a major achievement in its missile development programme.

Until this week, Indian missiles had a range of about 3,500 kilometres.

The Agni-V is scheduled to become fully operational in two to three years.

"It is telling that no country has criticised India's missile test," the US experts wrote.

The US State Department simply called on all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint but also noted India's solid record on non-proliferation and its cooperation with the international community on nuclear issues.

"This is a far cry from Washington's position on Indian ballistic missile development throughout the 1990s, when Washington pressured New Delhi to modify its nuclear and missile posture," they said.

The new US stance also demonstrates a welcome evolution in US non-proliferation policy, they said.

"While some may view this evolution as a step away from US non-proliferation commitments, this is not necessarily the case. What it recognises is that US non-proliferation policy should not be a one-way street, where potentially aggressive, non-status quo powers like China build up their nuclear and ballistic missile forces, and the US responds by criticising its friends and allies for responding to the emerging threat," they wrote.

"It is a paradox, but nonetheless true, that sometimes the best option for confronting proliferation is to prepare to respond in kind.

"From this perspective, the Chinese, in large measure, have themselves to blame for this missile test by India," Curtis and Spring wrote.

The US change in position with regard to Indian missile capabilities demonstrates how far the US-India relationship has evolved over the last decade.

Now the US views India as a strategic partner with growing economic and political clout that will contribute to promoting security and stability in Asia, they wrote.


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