India building naval power, seeks to build Middle East influence
India's foreign minister said his country had no interest in filling the breach if Washington decided to reduce its military footprint in the Gulf, and cautioned that the region would not be well-served by turning to other Asian powers, like China.
"We have never played the classical role of intervening with military assistance in the same way that the US has been doing," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told Reuters.
"Because of the philosophical constraints that we impose on ourselves, we don't see ourselves as a replacement for any other power," he said on Saturday.
"We certainly don't believe that the presence of any other power, such as China or Japan, or what have you, would necessarily contribute to the security of the region."
Khurshid was speaking on the sidelines of a security conference in Bahrain, where a main point of debate is whether the United States might reduce its commitment to safeguarding the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's sea-borne oil exports pass, as it becomes more self-reliant in oil.
US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel assured the meeting that the United States had an enduring commitment to Middle East security, backed by diplomatic engagement as well as warplanes, ships, tanks, artillery and 35,000 troops.
But unfamiliar strains have appeared in Washington's relationship with the wealthy states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), partly because of a decline in US energy imports from the region.
Another reason for strain is progress in negotiations on Iran's dispute nuclear programme, a development that raises the possibility of a rapprochement between the United States and Iran, whom some GCC states view as a troublemaker.
That has led some Gulf Arab analysts and officials to speculate that the GCC states - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar - are casting around for new security partners, possibly the rising military powers of Asia that have long been the main buyers of Gulf oil.
Khurshid told Reuters India would always be ready to help train, exercise and share intelligence with Gulf Arab forces, but playing security guarantor "would be a paradigm shift".
"Stationing yourself for purposes of strategic defence is another matter entirely," he said.
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