Senator’s assurance facilitated US Drone Sale to India
New Delhi: (Web Desk) The Biden administration’s proposal to make a major armed drone sale to India is finally going to move ahead, but only after a key Senator said he received assurances from the White House that a US citizen’s murder plot would be properly investigated.
The deal was blocked by Congress two months ago over allegations that an Indian government agency sought to assassinate a US national on American soil.
“My approval of this sale was the result of months of painstaking discussions with the Biden administration,” said Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland.
Senator Ben Cardin, who chairs the pivotal Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement, “While I’m fully aware of the significance of this sale for US national security and strategic interests, I have consistently conveyed my concerns regarding the timing of this sale to administration officials in light of the alleged murder-for-hire plot involving Indian officials to attempt to assassinate an American citizen on US soil. I have been assured by the Administration that the Indian government is committed to thoroughly investigating the situation and fully cooperating with the U.S. Department of Justice investigation so that there is credible accountability in this case. As the Chairman of this committee, I fully intend to hold the Administration to these commitments.”
The statement was shared with The Wire and later posted on the Senate website on Friday.
Last Thursday, the US State Department has approved the potential sale of 31 armed MQ-9B SkyGuardian drones, related missiles and equipment to India for nearly $4 billion, the Pentagon said.
The deal came years after the two countries started discussing a deal.
India has long expressed interest in buying large, armed drones from the United States, but bureaucratic stumbling blocks hampered a hoped-for deal. Talks over an armed version for India date back to 2018, while discussions over unarmed versions date back even further.
The approval by the State Department does not mean the deal is a sure thing, but demonstrates progress as the U.S. continues a campaign to coax India away from buying Russian military equipment.
The State Department nod signals that the deal likely has cleared one stumbling block, approval by leaders of U.S. congressional committees.
Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had ended his “hold” on the agreement now that President Joe Biden’s administration had agreed to fully investigate an Indian assassination plot on U.S. soil.
“The (Biden) administration has demanded that there be investigation and accountability in regards to the plot here in the United States, and that there is accountability within India against these types of activities,” Cardin told reporters.
Ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington last June, before the plot was uncovered, the Biden administration had pushed New Delhi to cut through its own red tape and advance a deal.
Currently, India is leasing a few MQ-9Bs as part of an intelligence-gathering operation.
The deal includes sophisticated communications and surveillance equipment, 170 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles and 310 Laser Small Diameter Bombs, a precision glide bomb.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems will be the principal contractor, the Pentagon said.
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress of the possible sale.