NEW DELHI: The United States and India are expected to sign an agreement on Monday that would take a major step towards allowing the sale of sophisticated US arms to the South Asian nation, three senior US officials said.
Known as an "end-use monitoring" agreement and required by US law for such weapons sales, the pact would let Washington check that India was using any arms for the purposes intended and preventing the technology from leaking to others.
India's Farm Minister Sharad Pawar (L) presents a bucket of flowers to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during Clinton's visit to Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi July 19, 2009. [Agencies]
The deal would be a tangible accomplishment of Hillary Clinton's first trip to India as US secretary of state and it could prove a boon to US companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.
Both US defence contractors are in the running to compete for India's plan to buy 126 multi-role fighters, which would be one of the largest arms deals in the world as India takes steps to modernise its largely Russian-made arsenal.
The two US companies are competing with Russia's MiG-35, France's Dassault Rafale, Sweden's Saab KAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish firms, for the contract.
The US officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said the defence agreement was not finalised as of late Sunday but that they expected it to go through in time for Clinton's signature on Monday.
"If we don't sign that, it will be a definite slap in the face," said a US congressional aide ahead of Clinton's visit to New Delhi, where she will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on Monday.
Clinton's visit aims to deepen ties with India, a country whose economic power and political stability make it a natural US ally, according to analysts, despite the long history of US-Indian tensions during the Cold War when Washington at times tilted toward India's rival Pakistan.
US officials hope for two other tokens of a closer relationship to be confirmed during Clinton's trip: an Indian announcement of two nuclear sites reserved for US companies to build reactors and a broad strategic dialogue to be led by the US secretary of state and the Indian foreign minister.
US officials estimate that the nuclear sites represent up to $10 billion in business for US nuclear reactor builders such as General Electric Co. and Westinghouse Electric Co, a subsidiary of Japan's Toshiba Corp.
In addition to her official talks with Singh and Krishna, Clinton planned to meet Sonia Gandhi, the head of the ruling Congress party, and with L.K. Advani, the aging leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, on Monday.