New York: The US Senate has urged the government to "strengthen and enhance its major defence partnership with India" and help develop its capabilities.
The proposals for enhancing defence and strategic ties between India and the United States were included in the $750 billion defence budget passed by the Senate on Thursday. Formally known as the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), it is yet to be passed by the House of Representatives, which is scheduled to consider it this month.
The defence budget passed by the Senate said: "It is the sense of the Senate that the United States should strengthen and enhance its major defence partnership with India" and listed six specific actions it wanted US President Donald Trump's Administration to take.
It wanted the administration to strengthen and expand the scope of India's designation as a major defence partner. India was accorded the status in 2016 by former President Barack Obama and built upon by Trump. That status is shared by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries and other close US allies like Japan and Australia.
The Senate asked Washington to explore "additional steps to implement the major defence partner designation to better facilitate interoperability, information sharing, and appropriate technology transfers" and to undertake "strategic initiatives to help develop the defence capabilities of India".
It also urged for "increasing the frequency and scope of exchanges" between senior civilian officials and military officers "to support the development and implementation of the major defence partnership".
While India and the US have been holding joint exercises in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, the Senate urged to increase them and also conduct them in the Persian Gulf.
The suggestion of expanding joint exercises to the Persian Gulf is significant as the area has emerged as a hotspot with rising tensions between the US and Iran and attacks on oil tankers in recent weeks. India has independently deployed two naval vessels in the region to protect its shipping interests.
While the US is pursuing negotiations with the Taliban for a peace accord, the Senate suggested taking "cooperative efforts to promote stability and security in Afghanistan".
Amid increased attacks by the terror group in Afghanistan, India has expressed unease with the pace of US-Taliban negotiations and urged Washington to be cautious.
In a recognition of the shared democratic values and commitment to free navigation, another suggestion in the budget document is to increase engagement with India in multilateral frameworks "to promote regional security and defend shared values and common interests in the rules-based order". It said the quadrilateral dialogue among the US, India, Japan and Australia should be enhanced.
The budget proposals related to India were introduced by the Senate India Caucus Co-Chairs, Senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner.
Hindu American Foundation Managing Director Samir Kalra said the organisation commended them for their "hard work in advancing the US-India strategic partnership."
An amendment along the lines of the Senate provisions for India has been proposed for the House version of the defence budget by Representative Brad Sherman and others.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @arulouis)