US in early talks with India over missile defence


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Indian Defence Ministry shows an Agni III missile being launched in the south …

LONDON (AFP) – The United States is in preliminary talks with India over the sale of missile shield systems to help New Delhi guard against nuclear threats, the Financial Times reported Thursday.

Citing officials at the US embassy in New Delhi, the business daily said talks took place mainly at a scientific and technical level, and US defence officials had conducted computer simulations with their Indian counterparts.

"India is a partner of ours, and we want to provide it with whatever it needs to protect itself," one US embassy official was quoted as saying.

"This fits into the overall strategic partnership we are building."

Relations between India and the United States, which were frosty for years, have warmed considerably in recent years and October saw the signing of a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation accord.

Thursday's report comes amid increased tensions between India and Pakistan -- nuclear-armed neighbours who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 -- over the attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai in November.

The FT quoted a senior Pakistani official with detailed knowledge of Islamabad's nuclear programme as saying that it "will have to take counter measures to respond" to any US-India deal on missile defence.

But the daily noted that no decisions had yet been made, and an agreement would likely be extremely politically sensitive for the Indian government