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International relations

Modi and Johnson agree on new Anglo-Indian security partnership

Leaders also discuss Ukraine crisis in talks between 'special' friends

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, shakes hands with his British counterpart Boris Johnson after a joint press conference in New Delhi on Friday.   © AP

NEW DELHI -- The prime ministers of India and the U.K. agreed Friday on a new and expanded defense and security partnership and committed to completing a free trade deal by the end of the year.

After talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, British leader Boris Johnson said it is "a decade-long commitment that will not only forge tighter bonds between us but [also] support [New Delhi's] goal of 'Make in India'" -- a policy aimed at turning the country into a manufacturing hub.

"The U.K. is creating an India-specific open general export license, reducing bureaucracy and slashing delivery times for defense procurement," Johnson said at a joint media appearance with Modi after extensive talks in the Indian capital. "We have agreed to work together to meet new threats across land, sea, air, space and cyber, including partnering on new fighter jet technology, [and] maritime technology to detect and respond to threats in the oceans."

The Ukraine war was also on the pair's agenda. India has not outright condemned Russia's invasion and has abstained from key votes on the issue at the United Nations. Instead, New Delhi has called for an end to the violence and to seek a solution through diplomacy and dialogue.

"We stressed on dialogue and diplomacy for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and resolution of the problem [there]," Modi said, adding that they also emphasized "a free, open, inclusive and rules-based order" in the Indo-Pacific.

Johnson, who described Modi in his local language as his "khas dost," or special friend, made an oblique reference to the war in his remarks to the media after meeting Modi.

"In challenging times, it is very important that we, the 'khas dosts,' get closer together," he said. "It was great to see you at the G-7 but since then threats of autocratic coercion have grown even further and it is therefore vital that we deepen our cooperation, including our shared interest in keeping the Indo-Pacific open and free," he said directly to Modi.

Ahead of the summit, Johnson, who is in India on a two-day visit, said in a statement that the world faces "growing threats from autocratic states which seek to undermine democracy, choke off free and fair trade and trample on sovereignty."

"The U.K.'s partnership with India is a beacon in these stormy seas. Our collaboration on the issues that matter to both our countries, from climate change to energy security and defense, is of vital importance as we look to the future."

At the media event, both leaders also noted the 2030 roadmap launched last year to advance bilateral ties, including doubling annual two-way trade to about 50 billion pounds ($64 billion) by the end of this decade.

"We have decided to make all efforts toward concluding the FTA by the end of this year," Modi said.

Johnson said the two sides are also taking "big steps" together on energy security, "helping each other to reduce our dependence on imported hydrocarbons and adopt cheaper, more sustainable homegrown alternatives."

About his Gujarat visit on Thursday, Johnson said he became the first Conservative prime minister to travel to the western Indian state, also the birthplace of Modi. He said the grand welcome extended to him in Gujarat, including hoardings with his picture everywhere, made him feel like Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan -- cricket and Bollywood living legends in India.

"As India celebrates its 75th year of independence [from British rule], I'm filled with optimism about the years ahead and the death of the friendship between our countries and the security and prosperity that our partnership can deliver to our people for generations to come," he said.

Johnson will now return to a political storm in the U.K., where some Tory lawmakers have called on him to resign ahead of an investigation being launched into whether the prime minister lied to parliament over the "Partygate" scandal.

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