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drone deal with India: Senator Cardin says he backed drone deal with India after ‘painstaking discussions’ with Biden admin

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A powerful US Senator has said he ended his objection to the USD 3.9 billion drone deal with India after months of “painstaking discussions” with the Biden administration which assured him that New Delhi is committed to investigating an alleged plot to assassinate a Khalistani separatist on American soil. Following the assurance from the administration, Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, removed his objections to the deal.
The move led the State Department to notify Congress that the US Government has agreed to sell 31 armed drones to India at an estimated cost of USD 3.9 billion.

The US on Thursday approved the sale of 31 MQ-9B armed drones to India at an estimated cost of USD 3.99 billion, an acquisition that will bolster India’s capability to meet current and future threats by enabling unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in sea lanes of operation.

Under the deal, India will get 31 High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs, of which the Navy will get 15 SeaGuardian drones, while the Army and the Indian Air Force will get eight each of the land version – SkyGuardian.

Cardin, a Democrat, in a statement, said that he approved the deal only after the Biden administration assured him that the Indian government was committed to thoroughly investigating the situation and fully cooperating with the US Department of Justice’s investigation into the alleged Indian link to the foiled plot to kill separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

US federal prosecutors in an indictment unsealed in November last year charged Indian national Nikhil Gupta with working with an Indian government employee in the foiled plot to kill Pannun, who holds dual US and Canadian citizenships, on American soil. “As the Chairman of this committee, I fully intend to hold the Administration to these commitments,” Cardin, 80, said. “My approval of this sale was the result of months of painstaking discussions with the Biden administration.

“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 in an attempt to assassinate an American citizen on US soil,” Cardin said.

Cardin said that the US-India partnership plays a key role in the Indo-Pacific stability, including through regional mechanisms such as the Quad.

“I support deepening our bilateral relationship with India as long as that partnership is based on mutual trust and respect. Championing human rights and democratic values globally is one of my top priorities,” Cardin said.

“Progress on these issues requires difficult discussions about our own democracy, as well as discussions with our closest allies and friends,” he said.

Cardin said he would continue to raise human rights issues with the Administration, as well as Indian counterparts because “I believe that our shared values are fundamental to the growth and longevity of our partnership,”

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