By: Vivek Raghuvanshi
NEW DELHI — The White House symbolically confirmed its policy to treat India as a major defense partner, following its decision to move ahead with the sale to India of 22 Guardian maritime drones worth about $2 billion prior to a June 26 meeting in Washington between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump, say analysts.
"The fact that the Trump administration made the effort to expeditiously close on the Indian request (for Guardian drones) signals its interest in preserving close relations with India," said Ashley J. Tellis, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
India requested to buy the 22 drones in late 2016 under the Obama administration, but the former president left the decision to the new administration. India's request also included the purchase of an unknown numbers of armed drones.
India's wish list still includes that import of armed drones from the U.S., but that sale would require "a major policy change," according to Tellis.
"The United States has a standing prohibition against export of advanced unmanned aerial vehicles. The only exceptions we've made are to allies involved in combined operations. India's need for armed UAVs is great, but it will take a major policy change for the administration to authorize the sale of armed UAVs to India," Tellis said.
An Indian Ministry of Defence official said the country will now look to Israel for its acquisition of armed drones, rather than wait for a decision from the U.S.
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