Visiting US general urges Nepal to join State Partnership Program, promises aidPrime Minister Deuba and Nepal Army chief Sharma want political consensus before Nepal joins the program, a component of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, officials say.
Amid speculations in political circles that visiting Commanding General of the US Army Pacific Charles Flynn could urge Nepal to become part of the US-initiated State Partnership Program (SPP), a component of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the issue did figure in his meetings with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Nepal Army chief General Prabhu Ram Sharma, according to top government sources.
“Both the prime minister and the army chief are seeking a broader political consensus for signing the agreement,” a senior Defense Ministry official said, adding, “If there is consensus, then Nepal will possibly sign the agreement during Prime Minister Deuba’s visit to the US in July.”
General Flynn, who arrived here on a four-day official visit on Thursday, held meetings with President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister Deuba and General Sharma, among others, on Friday.
The US has been proposing Nepal to join the SPP since 2015, and sent a draft agreement to the Nepali side for consideration in April.
During his Nepal visit in April, Adjutant General at Utah National Guard, Major General Michael J Turley had handed over the draft agreement of the SPP to Prime Minister Deuba and General Sharma, according to the sources familiar with the development.
After receiving the draft agreement, Prime Minister Deuba has been in consultations with various stakeholders, and the Nepal Army is also studying it.
“But we have not reached any conclusion as Nepal Army has some reservations about some paragraphs of the draft. Nepal does not want to be seen as having joined some US-led security and military alliance or the Indo-Pacific Strategy,” a joint secretary at the Ministry of Defence said, requesting anonymity.
During the third meeting of the Nepal-US Land Force Talks in Hawaii in March, the US side had asked Nepal to sign the SPP and offered military assistance under the program.
The six-page draft agreement has 10 clauses and promises to provide Nepal US$500 million for five years besides non-lethal equipment to the Nepal Army, according to officials privy to the draft.
The officials said the US has also offered to cooperate with the Nepal Army and provide support in areas like cyber security, terrorism, intelligence sharing, high-altitude training, humanitarian assistance, and disaster management among others.
Separately, Nepal Army has also sent a list of its requirements to the US side as the US had earlier pledged to provide two sky trucks, and offered to supply US-made Bell helicopters instead of two MI-17 helicopters that Nepal is preparing to buy from Russia.
Nepal Army spokesperson Brigadier General Narayan Silwal said that since the visit is a continuation of exchanges between Nepali and the US armies, no specific agenda was discussed during the meeting.
Speaking in parliament, some leaders of the CPN-UML, the main opposition, and the CPN (Maoist Center) have demanded that the government give details of the upcoming visits to the US of Prime Minister Deuba and Army chief General Sharma.
Prime Minister Deuba is planning to fly to the US in mid-July while General Sharma is visiting the US from June 27 to July 1.
“We have deep suspicions that the government is planning to sign an agreement to join the State Partnership Program with the US during any of these visits,” Chief Whip of the Maoist Center Dev Gurung said. “If so, the government should inform Parliament about its intention and make public the draft document forwarded by the US.”
Gurung also demanded that the prime minister and army chief should postpone their visits to the US. “What is behind this sudden spike in high-level visits between the US and Nepal especially after the ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact?” he questioned.
CPN-UML too has raised concerns about Flynn’s visit and upcoming visits of the prime minister and army chief to the US. UML lawmaker Surya Pathak speaking in Parliament on Friday demanded that the government should inform the House about the high-level visits and the agenda.
According to Tika Prasad Dhakal, information and communications expert to the President, Flynn during his meeting with the President said the US is looking to strengthen military ties between the two armies and is committed to providing all possible support to Nepal Army.
Although the visit of the army chief to the US has been termed a regular one that was delayed due to the Covid pandemic, some defense experts said American engagement in Nepal has increased in recent times, especially after the passage in February of the MCC Compact, and General Sharma’s visit may be more than a routine event.
Just last week, US Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya concludedher three-day Nepal visit, the highest-level visit by a US official since 2012. US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu visited Kathmandu in November last year. Before that Vice President of MCC Compact Operations Fatema Z Sumar was in Kathmandu in September.
A US Congressional delegation led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also visited Nepal in the third week of April.
Nepal and the US are celebrating the 75th anniversary of their diplomatic relations this year.
The Nepal-US ties have been steady over the last seven decades. Washington, however, appeared to have been frustrated only recently when Nepali political leadership vacillated on ratifying the MCC Nepal Compact, a $ 500 million grant which Nepal signed up in 2017.
Meanwhile, Nepal Army in a statement on Friday said General Sharma and Flynn discussed issues of mutual interest and cooperation. During the visit at Nepal Army headquarters at Bhadrakali, General Flynn was given a guard of honor. General Sharma also briefed Flynn on the operations of the Nepal Army, according to the statement.