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1 Feb, 2024 08:24

US reacts to reports of stalled drone deal with India

New Delhi’s $3 billion UAV order could be held up over Sikh activist murder plot, media claimed
US reacts to reports of stalled drone deal with India

The US State Department stated on Wednesday that the Biden administration has yet to notify the US Congress of its plan to sell 31 MQ-9B Predator armed drones to India under a $3 billion agreement inked last year. The clarification came in response to reports in the Indian media that the deal had been delayed over an alleged Indian plot to assassinate Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York.

The US has held back the deal that was finalized during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington last year, digital media outlet The Wire reported on Wednesday, citing sources. The report claimed that members of the US Congress have frozen the legislative movement needed for the deal to proceed “because of anger over the brazen attempt” to assassinate Pannun. The PTI news agency also reported on Wednesday that “the pace of the negotiations” has slowed down after US federal prosecutors alleged an Indian link in the failed murder plot.

Commenting on the matter, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the deal “offers significant potential” to advance the defense cooperation between the two countries. However, he refused to specify the deadline for notifying the US Congress of the deal.

“Congress plays – as you know – an important role in the U.S. arms transfer process,” he asserted. “We routinely consult with members of Congress with the foreign – on the foreign affairs committees before our formal notification to – so we can address questions that they might have. But I don't have any comment on when that formal notification might take place.”

Similarly, the US embassy spokesperson in New Delhi told The Hindu newspaper that the Biden administration “continues to discuss” the drone deal. The report noted that such a response indicates that Congressional clearance is still a work in progress.

US-India relations appear to have hit a rough patch over the assassination attempt on Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, allegedly orchestrated by New Delhi. Pannun heads Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a group outlawed by New Delhi over its demand for a nation-state for the Sikh minority to be carved out of India’s Punjab state.

According to a US court indictment, an official in New Delhi collaborated with Indian national Nikhil Gupta to carry out the murder. Gupta, who allegedly tried to hire a killer for the purpose, was arrested in the Czech Republic and is awaiting extradition to the US. Meanwhile, India’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has set up a high-level committee to probe “relevant aspects” of the case. 

Notably, the report in The Wire surfaced days after a delegation of US diplomats, including Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu, had traveled to Delhi reportedly raising concerns over the progress of a New Delhi investigation into the affair.

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