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Gates Says US Committed to Stronger Ties with India

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on a visit aimed at increasing U.S.-Indian strategic relations, has told officials in New Delhi that Washington's commitment to a deeper relationship with India is not likely to change no matter who the next American president is. Gates also repeated his hope that the current Turkish incursion into northern Iraq is short and narrowly focused. VOA's Steve Herman reports from the Indian capital.

The U.S. defense secretary says he told India's leaders that whether a Democrat or Republican succeeds President Bush in the White House, the next U.S. administration will not change course when it comes to the growing partnership between India and the United States.

"The steadily improving relationship with India is one that will continue regardless of who is elected President in the United States in November," Gates said. "I think there is very broad bi-partisan support in the United States for continuing to expand this relationship between the world's two biggest democracies."

As a sign of India's changing strategic outlook, New Delhi has moved away from almost exclusive reliance on Moscow for its military hardware.

Russia still supplies much of the armaments and technology for India's military, but U.S. and European companies are currently in competition with a Russian manufacturer for the sale of 126 jet fighters to India.

Formal bidding for the $10 billion fighter contract is scheduled to close next Monday, and two American defense contractors got a boost for their bid Wednesday from Defense Secretary Gates.

He pitched the attributes of Boeing and Lockheed Martin aircraft during his meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defense Minister A.K. Antony and other top Indian government officials.

"I indicated that we obviously are interested and believe that we are very competitive in the selection of the new fighter, the multi-role combat fighter, here in India and that we ask no special treatment," Gates said. "We simply are pleased to have a place at the table and we believe in a fair competition that we have a very good case to make."

Gates said he would tell Turkish leaders in Ankara Thursday that their five-day-old incursion into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish separatists should to be short and narrowly focused.

"I measure quick in terms of days, a week or two, something like that. Not months," he said.

Gates, speaking to reporters here Wednesday, called on Turkey not to rely only on military means to combat disaffection by the country's Kurdish population.