WASHINGTON, April 30 (Reuters) - The United States has fretted for years that its ties to Pakistan and past sanctions against India would harm its efforts to win arms deals such as the $11 billion fighter order that slipped away from two U.S. suppliers this week, a U.S. diplomatic cable showed.
“Our ability to seize the opportunities presented by this newly improved environment is limited by the commonly held view that the U.S. will not prove to be a reliable supplier of defense equipment,” Timothy Roemer, the U.S. ambassador to India, said in an October 29, 2009, cable to Michele Flournoy, a top Pentagon official then about to visit India.
U.S. officials from President Barack Obama down subsequently pushed hard to sell U.S. fighter jets to India to crown expanding security ties. The United States also is eyeing tens of billions of dollars in other potential arms deals with India, the cable showed.
In the end, India shortlisted two European aircraft over Boeing Co's F/A-18 SuperHornet and Lockheed Martin Corp's F-16, company officials said on Thursday.
Lockheed and Boeing are the Pentagon's No. 1 and No. 2 supplier, respectively. Each is pressing to boost sales in India, which plans to spend about $50 billion in the next five years to modernize old Soviet-era weapons and technology.
Roemer announced Thursday he was leaving his post for professional and family reasons. “The new environment” reference in his 2009 cable concerned the emergence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government with “a clear mandate not beholden to coalition partners” for the first time since post-Cold War U.S.-Indian strategic ties took shape.
U.S. competitors use the economic sanctions imposed by Washington after Indian nuclear tests in 1998 to try to harm U.S. sales prospects, the cable said.
They also point to “our close defense relationship with Pakistan as rationale that the U.S. should not be trusted,” Roemer wrote in the message obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks and made available to Reuters by a third party.