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India snubs Iran, Pakistan in defense show

NEW DELHI, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- India has excluded Pakistan, China and Iran from the biggest air show exhibit in South Asia.

Aero India 2011 kicks off next week and is expected to feature more than 60 countries, including Russia, Israel, the United States and France.

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Defense Production Secretary Raj Kumar Singh, the main organizer for the event, said the Indian defense ministry had acted in line with "the advice of the ministry of external affairs" in deciding whom to invite.

While Pakistan has never been invited to the air show, its defense attache in New Delhi has in the past visited Defexpo, the land weapons show that is conducted every other year in New Delhi.

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Aero India and Defexpo are put on in New Delhi and Bangalore alternatively, every other year. This year's will be the eighth exhibit of Aero India.

Singh said China had been invited in previous Aero India shows but didn't attend.

"That's probably why they were not invited" this time, Singh explained.

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While Russia, the main supplier of military hardware to India, has been invited, its presence at the exhibit will be significantly scaled down, organizers said.

"It is not bringing in the MiG-35 combat aircraft though it is in the competition for a possible $12 billion deal to supply 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft," The Telegraph of India reported.

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Bent on bolstering its defenses and becoming a regional superpower, India intends to spend up to $30 billion on its military by 2012. In recent months, also, it inducted a long-range, nuclear-tipped missile into its armed forces and unveiled a defense spending budget spiked by 24 percent since last year.

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India's multi-role aircraft deal is viewed as the single, largest military contract up for grabs.

Vying for the contract are the F-16 Super Viper (Lockheed Martin, United States), F/A-18 Super Hornet (Boeing, United States), Rafale (Dassault Aviation, France), Gripen JAS 39 C/D (Saab, Sweden). Officials have indicated that the deal could be concluded within the following months.

Iran's exclusion at the India exhibit was seen as a surprise.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, India and Iran charted close military relations, not only because of diplomatic ties but because the two countries shared a common Russian weapons platform. In recent years, though, India has shied from Tehran, either voting against or abstaining in U.N. votes on Iran's nuclear ambitions or its human rights record.

The defense production ministry of India refused to comment on New Delhi's decision to bar Iran's participation from the Aero India 2011 event.

The exhibit, which begins next Wednesday, has invited a delegation from Afghanistan as part of India's national policy to bolster ties with the country.

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"We have good cooperation with Afghanistan and so we are delighted it is sending a delegation to the air show. We want such cooperation to grow," Singh said.

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