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Pentagon defends US Navy ship asserting navigational rights inside India’s EEZ without permission

PTI, Apr 10, 2021, 9:58 AM IST

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Washington: The Pentagon has defended its Navy asserting its navigational rights within India’s exclusive economic zone without taking New Delhi’s permission, calling the move “consistent with international law”.

In an unusual move, the US Navy announced that on Wednesday it conducted a freedom of navigation operation in Indian waters without prior consent to challenge India’s “excessive maritime claims”, triggering a reaction from New Delhi, which on Friday said it has conveyed concerns to Washington through diplomatic channels.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also contested the US Navy’s 7th Fleet statement of April 7 that the freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) by the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones “upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses” of the sea recognised in international law by challenging India’s “excessive maritime claims”.

When asked about India’s reaction over the US Navy’s move, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby on Friday said: “I can tell you is 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 within its exclusive economic zone without requesting prior permission”.

Earlier, announcing about the operation, the statement by the 7th Fleet said, “On April 7, 2021 (local time) USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) 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.”

Kirby in response to a question from reporters at a Pentagon news conference said: “That’s consistent with international law.”

“Again, we continue to maintain the right, indeed the responsibility, to fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law,” he said.

Kirby said that it is the responsibility of the US to uphold the freedom of navigation and the rights and freedom and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law.

The MEA in its statement said: “India’s stated position on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is that the Convention does not authorise other states to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) 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.

“The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits. We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the government of the USA through diplomatic channels,” the MEA added.

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