New Delhi: The Indian government said Monday that the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz, one of the world`s largest aircraft carriers, would be allowed to dock at Chennai early next month, and said that such visits were part "of our defence cooperation (with the US)."
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a defence accounts function here, defence minister, AK Antony said, "Ships of various countries visit Indian ports. This (the Nimitz visit) is nothing new."
Though the US is known to have sought permanent docking facilities for its vessels at Indian ports, the Indian government is yet to oblige. A recent visit by the operations chief of the US Navy, Admiral Michael Mullen, saw him pressing the request in a forceful manner (See: US Govt presses India for access and berthing rights at Indian ports. Also see: US Navy chief of naval operations in India).
Currently, US and other foreign naval vessels are granted berthing facilities on a case-by-case basis.
The Nimitz visit was "part of (India`s) policy of close defence cooperation with all countries," Antony maintained. "Very soon, the Indian and Chinese armies will be staging a joint exercise." Responding to a query, regarding opposition by the Left parties to the visit, Antony replied: "It has been happening for so many years." Left parties support India`s ruling coalition from the outside.
The USS Nimitz is currently on a six-month deployment to the Arabian Sea, and is expected to dock in Chennai in the first week of July for three to four days.
The USS Nimitz, and a battle group comprising the USS Stennis, were deployed in the Strait of Hormuz in April, around the time the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submitted a report to UN Security Council on Iran`s controversial nuclear programme.
The visit of the Nimitz comes soon after the Indian Navy staged a joint drill with the US and Japanese navies off the Japanese coast in March. The Indian and US navies also conduct the annual Malabar series of joint exercises, while the armies and air forces of have been involved in sporadic low levels of engagements over the last two years.
The Nimitz will be the largest US naval vessel to call at an Indian port.