WASHINGTON The United States hopes to be able to expand naval cooperation with India once a new government is in place in New Delhi, the chief of U.S. naval operations said on Monday.
Admiral Jonathan Greenert said the United States would like to see this cooperation extend to India's participation in exercises in the Western Pacific region, where an increasingly powerful China is becoming more assertive.
"There’s a strategic partnership and opportunity up there with India that is emerging," Greenert told a Washington think tank. "My goal would be to get back to where we were in mid-2000s."
"We were doing very, very comprehensive events. We were doing carrier operations together, very, very complex, integrated ... and I think it would be great if we could get back to that level," he said.
"Then maybe India would be willing to come over to Western Pacific ... we will just have to see what the political ramifications are and where they are willing to go."
U.S. officials say plans to expand naval cooperation with India ended up on a back burner during a long-running row between New Delhi and Washington over the treatment of an Indian diplomat in New York and in the run-up to India's election earlier in May.
Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party won a resounding victory in the election.
The scale of the win, which gave Modi India's strongest mandate in 30 years, will assure him greater control over the country's security agenda, and analysts say India may finally be able to deal with overseas rivals from a position of strength.
India's state-run energy company, Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), has a stake in a gas field in the South China Sea, a region where China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia have competing claims.
India has sparred diplomatically with China in the past over this exploration block, and in late 2012, India's navy chief said India was prepared to deploy vessels to the South China Sea to protect its energy interests.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and there were confrontations between Chinese and Vietnamese ships this month after Beijing deployed an oil drilling rig in disputed waters 150 miles (240 km) off Vietnam's coast.
Vietnam has broadened its military relationships in recent years in response to China's assertiveness, including with India and the United States.
Last week, the U.S. Seventh Fleet, which guards U.S. interests in the Pacific, renewed a call for more ship visits to Vietnam.
Greenert said he was not familiar with the specifics of the negotiations on increased cooperation with Vietnam, but he added: "I would like to see it increase in a deliberate manner."
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)