by Lalit K Jha

Washington: The United States needs to be creative in how it insists India on signing the foundational agreements, which the US considers important for enhanced bilateral defence cooperation with India, a top American commander told lawmakers today.

"I think we need to be creative in how we insist on that application in India and work with the Indians so that together we can come to a place where we can realize this major defence partner moniker," Admiral Harry J Harris, Commander of the US Pacific Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing.

In 2016, India was designated as Major Defence partner by the then Obama Administration, which the Trump administration continued with in 2017.

"We designated India (major defence partner) in 2016 and in 2017 we continued that work. I think in 2018, this is the year to get things done. That means we have to do things on our side as well," Harris said, referring to the three foundational agreements that the US wants India to sign in.

India has been objecting to some of the provisions of the foundational agreement. As a result, of late the Pentagon has been talking about India-specific paper work which addresses the concerns of New Delhi and takes care of the existing American laws in this regard.

Harris was responding to a question from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is Co-Chair of the Congressional caucus on India and Indian-Americans.

"I do believe that India is our great strategic opportunity, shared values, shared concerns, and all of that. They are the only country in the world thats designated as major defense partner and we need to, we the United States, we need to continue to look for ways to turn that term into reality," Harris said.

"We have a great opportunity coming up in India to improve the capability of their defense forces," he said.

In response to another question, Harris said US views India as one of the biggest strategic opportunities that the US has. Harris was recently in India to attend the Raisina Dialogue.

"I think that the opportunities with India, a country that shares our democratic values, the largest democracy in the world, and a friend of the Unites States -- its important that we continue to -- to work closely with India, and we continue to provide things for the Indian military and that we continue the mil-to-mil relationship with the India armed forces," he said.