Pentagon Asserts Rights After India Lodges Concerns

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Washington, DC – Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby on Friday (April 9) went to great lengths explaining that the USS John Paul Jones, a Navy destroyer, “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Republic of the Maldives by conducting innocent passage through its territorial sea, in normal operations with its exclusive economic zone, without requesting prior permission and that’s consistent with international law.”

The questions were raised at the daily press briefing at the Pentagon after Indian External Affairs Ministry (MEA) conveyed “concerns” to the US diplomatic channels after the USS John Paul Jones conducted a freedom of navigation operation near India’s Lakshadweep Islands on April 7.

“The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits,” read the MEA statement, adding, “We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) to the Government of U.S.A through diplomatic channels.”

Earlier in a statement issued by the US 7th Fleet, the Commander said that the USS John Paul, “asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”

The Commander asserted that “this freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claim.”

Indian MEA statement, however, countered these claims citing India’s stated position on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is that “Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state.”

On Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary Kirby, when further pressed by IAT to clear the controversy generated by the passage of the US navy vessels, called it an “innocent passage through the territorial sea, in the vicinity of the Republic of the Maldives,” and asserted, it was “within our — within its exclusive economic zone, was conducted with, you know — against normal operations and all consistent with — with international law.”

Without going into the “specific communication with India on this,” Kirby added, “Our responsibility really (is) to uphold the freedom of navigation and the rights and freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law.”

Referring to the unveiling of the freedom of navigation report a few weeks back, Kirby said, “When we talk about freedom of navigation operations, you tend to get — we all tend to get focused on — well, it’s against a nation-state. It’s not against a nation-state, it’s for a principle, and we do it all around the world. It’s not just something that — you know, we — we tend to talk about it in — in regards to China and their excessive maritime claims but it isn’t all just about China, it’s something we do not against something but for something and we do it all around the world.”

Defense policy observers pointed at the unnecessary tension generated by the passage with India, after a successful Quad diplomacy in recent times. President Joe Biden had recently joined Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the first-ever leaders-level Quad talks via virtual link.

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Tejinder Singh, Editor, India America Today & White House Correspondent

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