New Delhi: The US Government has once again pressed its request for berthing and access facilities for USN ships at Indian ports, US chief of naval operations, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, said Wednesday. The original request for such facilities, made some three years back, has yet to receive an official response from New Delhi.
'Yes, the issue (of berthing and access at Indian ports) did figure in our discussions (with Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta),' Adm Mullen stated.
Presently, US Navy vessels are granted berthing and access facilities on a circumstantial basis and the US has been pressing for the arrangement to be institutionalised.
Adm Mullen, who addressed a wide rage of issues at a news conference here, expressed happiness over the 'very supportive' response to his collaborative concept of a 'thousand ship navy' amongst seafaring nations.
'The leadership of the Indian Navy seems very supportive,' he replied, when asked how the concept of the 'thousand ship navy' he mooted two years ago was received. 'It is up to India to determine how many ships they want to commit,' he added.
Clarifying that the nomenclature was only a 'brand name' he said the actual numbers could easily vary from 500 to 10,000.
'This is not about the US. It's about a global partnership that works at the regional and larger level. To that end, there is no formalised (command and control) structure. It's about working together when the need arises,' Adm Mullen maintained.
The concept, in fact, had already been put into practice in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami and last year's evacuation of foreign nationals from Lebanon in the midst of the month-long armed conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah.
'The ability of large numbers of ships from different nations to quickly come together in times of crisis shows that the concept can work,' Adm Mullen contended.
Adm Mullen also pointed to the threat posed by the naval wing of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, expressed concern at the growing clout of the Chinese navy, and maintained that the global war against terror and the Al Qaeda could continue for 'decades'.
Speaking about the threat posed by the sea wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), he said: 'It's a matter of concern. We are working together to understand the threat and the ways to address that threat.'
On China, Adm Mullen stated that while 'a rising and peaceful China is a good thing', there was 'lack of transparency over its strategic intent.
'China is shifting its focus from the ground to the navy and the air force. Clearly, we would like to better understand this. Where China is headed strategically is not clear (because) getting into a conflict situation is bad for all of us.
'At this point of time, there is some potential for conflict,' Mullen added.
Responding to a question on the global war against terror, he said: 'It will last for a long time; for decades, not for a year or two. Can we win it? Yes, we can, but it will take time.
Stating that the 'baseline' was the bombing of the US naval ship Cole in Yemen in 2000 in which 18 American sailors lost their lives, Mullen said: 'Al Qaeda still focuses on generating that kind of threat. The boats (like the ones used on the Cole) may be small but they are still a tremendous threat and can cause a lot of damage.
'It's an asymmetrical threat and that's part of the problem (in containing it),' he added.
Adm Mullen, who arrived here Tuesday, held discussions with the defence minister AK Antony and defence secretary Shekhar Dutt, as also with the three chiefs of the armed forces. He leaves for Mumbai Thursday to visit Indian Navy establishments.