Washington, Dec 1 :  A powerful US Congressional conference committee has asked the Defence Secretary and the Secretary of State to take steps necessary to recognise India as America’s major defence partner in a bid to strengthen bilateral security cooperation. The provision mentioned in the voluminous Congressional conference report, running into more than 3,000 pages, on USD 618 billion National Defence Authorisation Bill (NDAA), in another significant development asks the Defence Secretary and the Secretary of State to conduct an assessment of the extent to which India possesses capabilities to support and carry out military operations of mutual interest of the two countries.

This, including an assessment of the defence export control regulations and policies, need appropriate modification in recognition of India’s capabilities and its status as a major defence partner, said the conference report which was unveiled by the House and Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. It now needs to be formally passed by the two chambers of the Congress — the House of Representatives and Senate — before US President Barack Obama can sign it into law. Majority of the decisions of the Section 1292 of NDAA called “Enhancing defence and security cooperation with India” would, however, have to be taken by the incoming Donald Trump Administration which would take charge on January 20.

The language arrived in the conference report and NDAA has been agreed upon by both the Republican and the Democratic Party. NDAA 2017 authorises funding for the Department of Defence and the national security programmes of the Department of Energy. Senator John McCain said, it “enhances security cooperation between the United States and India”. McCain is Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, NDAA 2017 is still a step below what friends of India have been working for in the Congress for the past few years — brining the defence relationship at par with top NATO allies and Israel.

“The President shall ensure that the assessment” is used, consistent with US conventional arms transfer policy, to inform the review by the US of requests to export defence articles, defence services, or related technology to India under the Arms Export Control Act and to inform any regulatory and policy adjustments that may be appropriate, it said. NDAA 2017 also urged the Administration to designate an individual within the executive branch who has experience in defence acquisition and technology — to reinforce and ensure, through inter-agency policy coordination, the success of the Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship and to help resolve remaining issues impeding Indo-US defence trade, security cooperation and co-production and co-development opportunities.