Fighter jets, drones on table as Mattis visits key ally India

Fighter jets, drone deals and shared concerns over Afghanistan's security challenges look set to dominate the agenda when US Defence Secretary James Mattis (L) visits India this week. (AFP)
Updated 24 September 2017
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Fighter jets, drones on table as Mattis visits key ally India

NEW DELHI: Fighter jets, drone deals and shared concerns over Afghanistan’s security look set to dominate the agenda when US Defense Secretary James Mattis visits India this week.
Mattis is scheduled to arrive late Monday and is set to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his new defense minister, in the first visit by a top US official since Donald Trump became president in January.
“The United States views India as a valued and influential partner, with broad mutual interests extending well beyond South Asia,” a Pentagon statement said.
Trump and Modi met in June in Washington and the visit by Mattis is a sign “the political leadership in both countries place defense cooperation as a top priority,” Mukesh Aghi, president of the US India Strategic Partnership Forum, told AFP.
Delhi and Washington share concerns about Afghanistan, with Trump announcing a new strategy for the war-torn country last month which cleared the way for the deployment of thousands more US troops.
The president has urged India to increase assistance to Afghanistan’s economy, and has lambasted Delhi’s arch-rival Pakistan for offering safe haven to “agents of chaos.”
Mattis “will express US appreciation for India’s important contributions toward Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security,” the Pentagon said.
Experts are not expecting any Indian boots on the ground, though there may be some role for Indian military expertise in supporting the US-led training and advisory mission with Afghan security forces.
India has long vied with Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, building dams, roads and a new parliament in the troubled country. Last year it offered some $1 billion in aid.
Delhi frequently accuses Islamabad of stirring up violence in Afghanistan and harboring militant groups.
In 2016 the United States designated India a “Major Defense Partner” with the aim of increasing military cooperation and cutting red tape to ease defense deals.
Mattis’s predecessor Ashton Carter pushed hard for stronger defense ties and the Trump administration has not signalled any intention of changing course on this.
Trump has praised India for contributing to regional peace and stability and for buying US military equipment.
Mattis is likely to seek to persuade India to buy Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 aircraft in a deal potentially worth $15 billion.
Lockheed Martin has offered the most upgraded version of the jet fighter to India, the world’s largest weapons importer.
The US manufacturer is competing with Swedish defense giant Saab, whose Gripen E made its maiden flight in June.
India has said it needs at least 100 single-engine fighters to counter the growing air threat posed by China and Pakistan.
Saab and Lockheed have both offered to build the jets locally to comply with Modi’s “Make-in-India” initiative, which aims to cut imports and build a domestic defense industry.
US giant Boeing has also offered to set up a plant in India for production of its F/A 18 Super Hornet aircraft if it wins a deal.
A drone deal for the Indian Navy will also likely be up for discussion, a source familiar with the negotiations told AFP.
“Since Chinese assets have started to dominate the Indian Ocean region, the Trump administration is keen on fast-tracking the acquisition of the drones,” the source said.
Many commentators have said that US-India cooperation is crucial to countering an increasingly assertive China, which has been developing its military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific.
But Afghanistan will be front and center when Mattis meets Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who will host her highest-level foreign delegation since being appointed earlier this month.
The visit comes as the Indian army takes part in a two-week joint military training exercise in the United States to forge closer ties on counter-insurgency, regional security operations and peacekeeping.


Accused Russian agent Butina poised to plead guilty -US court papers

In this April 21, 2013, file photo, Maria Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, Russia. (AP)
Updated 34 min 3 sec ago
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Accused Russian agent Butina poised to plead guilty -US court papers

  • In a Dec. 8, 2016, class project at American University, she gave a presentation titled “What Might President Trump’s Foreign Policy Be Toward Russia?” and listed several of Russia’s policy objectives

WASHINGTON: Accused Russian agent Maria Butina, suspected of trying to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and influence US policy toward Russia, is expected to plead guilty this week following a deal between her lawyers and US prosecutors, according to court filings on Monday.
Exactly how the deal will be structured for Butina was not immediately clear. US District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington scheduled a hearing for Wednesday.
CNN reported on Monday that Butina had already begun to cooperate with prosecutors, citing one source familiar with the matter. A representative for the US Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case.
ABC News first reported that Butina would cooperate with prosecutors.
Butina, a former American University graduate student, had previously pleaded not guilty to US charges in July that she was acting as an agent of the Russian government and conspiring to take actions on Russia’s behalf.
Prosecutors have accused her of working with a Russian official and two US citizens to try to infiltrate the powerful NRA lobby group that has close ties to Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, and influence Washington’s policy toward Moscow.
Butina’s lawyers previously identified the Russian official as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who was hit with US Treasury Department sanctions in April.
One of the two Americans mentioned in the prosecutors’ criminal complaint was Paul Erickson, a conservative US political activist who was dating Butina. Neither Erickson nor Torshin has been accused by prosecutors of wrongdoing.
Butina’s cooperation will mainly focus on telling investigators about the role of Erickson and her interactions with Russian officials, CNN reported.
The case against Butina is being prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office in Washington and the National Security Division, and not US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election and any coordination between Moscow and Trump campaign members.
The government’s complaint against Butina did not explicitly mention Trump’s campaign. Trump has denied any collusion with Moscow occurred.
Reuters previously reported, however, that Butina was a Trump supporter who bragged at parties in Washington that she could use her political connections to help get people jobs in the Trump administration.
In a Dec. 8, 2016, class project at American University, she gave a presentation titled “What Might President Trump’s Foreign Policy Be Toward Russia?” and listed several of Russia’s policy objectives, according to a copy reviewed by Reuters.
Whether she could help shed any light on contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia is not known.
Moreover, the prosecutors in her case have previously made mistakes, including erroneously accusing Butina of offering sex in exchange for a position in a special interest group. The errors could possibly have helped give Butina more leverage in reaching a plea deal.