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U.S. ambassador to India announces resignation

NEW DELHI — Timothy J. Roemer, the U.S. ambassador to India, announced his resignation Thursday, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.

The announcement coincided with news that India had excluded two U.S. defense companies from a much-anticipated $11 billion deal for at least 126 fighter aircraft, fueling speculation in defense circles that the two moves were linked.

But others said the former six-term congressman from Indiana, a Democratic Party stalwart, may have felt he was being sidelined in India and wanted to raise his profile back in Washington in advance of President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election bid.

"I hear he wanted to get back to active politics," said Harinder Sekhon, a senior fellow in the U.S. studies program with New Delhi's Observer Research Foundation, a think tank.

Roemer said in a statement that he had agreed to only a two-year commitment when he took the job in 2009, that family considerations were paramount and that he had accomplished all the strategic objectives set out when he started the assignment. In a separate statement, he said he was "deeply disappointed" by India's decision against working with the U.S. companies.

Roemer said that he will serve as long as needed but that he expects to make the move in June. It was not immediately clear who will replace him.

India's military has been on a buying spree, and Obama stood to gain politically if India selected either of the two U.S. contenders, the Boeing F/A-18IN or the Lockheed Martin F-16IN. At a time of high U.S. unemployment, U.S. voters would welcome the estimated 27,000 jobs either deal would have provided.

"This type of technology is only provided to our closest allies and partners," Obama wrote in a February letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "Equipped with this technology, we are confident both of these aircraft will exceed the expectations of the Indian Air Force."

The Indian air force narrowed the competition down to France's Rafale and Europe's Typhoon, built by a consortium of Italian, Spanish, German and British companies.

"Your firms are out of fighter contract fray, India tells U.S.," read the headline in Thursday's Indian Express newspaper, over a story that said the decision was based solely on technical considerations.

Also losing out were Russia's MiG-35 and Sweden's Gripen.

U.S. companies have won several other defense deals recently, including a $1.2 billion agreement for six C-130J military cargo jets, a $2.1 billion deal for eight maritime P-8I aircraft and a $4.1 billion contract for 10 C-17 cargo aircraft.

"And in the nuclear energy field, a lot of upcoming contracts will go to the U.S.," said Ajey Lele, an analyst with New Delhi's Institute of Defense Studies. "I don't think relations will be hurt by one defense deal."

U.S. ambassador to India announces resignation 04/28/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 28, 2011 10:54pm]
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