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India tells US: we're willing to boost Afghan aid

* India willing to increase assistance to Afghanistan-US

* India’s influence viewed with suspicion in Pakistan

* Gates aims to deepen India-U.S. trade, military ties

NEW DELHI, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Indian leaders told U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates they were willing to increase aid to Afghanistan, during talks on Tuesday that also raised shared concerns about Islamist militants, U.S. officials said.

Gates’ Jan 19-21 trip to New Delhi comes as the United States deploys an additional 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Washington has been trying to get allies do more for the Afghan effort.

India is already one of the biggest donors in Afghanistan. But its influence -- with more than $1 billion in aid from highway construction to new consulates -- is viewed with suspicion in Pakistan.

“India indicated a willingness to contribute more,” said a senior U.S. defence official, briefing reporters after the talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna.

The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said India’s offer would not expand aid to new areas and “was caveated with: if ISAF and the United States think it would be helpful.”

Relations between India and Pakistan have been strained since India suspended a peace process with Pakistan after the 2008 assault on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants.

Last month, Gates told a U.S. Senate hearing he believed al Qaeda was providing those militants targeting information to plot attacks in India, with the goal of triggering an India-Pakistan conflict that would destabilize Pakistan.

Asked what India wanted from the United States to help combat al Qaeda-linked militants in the region, the U.S. official said: “to stay the course.”

The United States, Gates said in the talks, was not going to leave the region -- despite a 2011 U.S. target date to begin drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

“As the military component of the counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan achieves success our economic and our political components of our engagement will rise in comparison,” the official said.

GROWING DEFENCE SALES

Gates, the U.S. official said, also raised the importance of further building defence trade with India.

Currently the world’s 10th largest defence spender, India is looking to spend more than $50 billion over the next five years to modernize its armed forces.

“He stressed repeatedly that we desire to have an ever increasing relationship in this area with India and to have ever increasing levels of transactions,” the official said.

U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co said this month the Indian Air Force was interested in acquiring 10 C-17 aircraft, in a deal Indian defence ministry officials say is potentially worth more than $2 billion.

Last August, India started field trials to buy 126 multi-role fighter jets.

Gates, in an editorial in the Times of India newspaper published on Tuesday, noted the need to finalize bilateral agreements, including on technology transfer, to deepen trade relations.

“Not getting these agreements signed is an obstacle to Indian access to the very highest level of technology which they’re interested in,” Gates said. “And so we will be pursuing those agreements.” (Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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