By Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom WASHINGTON (Reuters) - India has agreed to work toward joining the Paris Agreement on climate change this year, India and the United States said on Tuesday, giving a jolt of momentum to the international fight to curb global warming. At a time of heightened tensions in Asia over China's assertive pursuit of territory, the two countries also pledged to expand military cooperation and outlined principles for cooperation on cyber issues. President Barack Obama welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House for their seventh meeting since Modi took office in 2014, underscoring the warm relationship between the two leaders and the world's largest democracies. Modi is to address the U.S. Congress on Wednesday. "We discussed how we can, as quickly as possible, bring the Paris Agreement into force," Obama told reporters during talks in the Oval Office. India's potential entrance into the agreement this year would help accelerate its enactment, perhaps years ahead of schedule. India is the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the United States. Obama and Modi are both committed to fighting climate change, which is a legacy issue for Obama, who leaves office in January. The two countries also welcomed preparations that could lead to the building of six nuclear reactors in India by U.S.-based Westinghouse. The United States, in a joint statement with India, said it now recognizes India as a "Major Defense Partner" and would work on technology sharing. The text of an agreement allowing the countries' militaries to use each other's land, air and naval bases would also be signed soon, a U.S. official said. Tensions between the United States and Pakistan as well as regional concerns about China served as a backdrop for the agreement on increased security cooperation. The joint statement said India and the U.S. Export-Import Bank were working to complete a financing package for the project to build six Westinghouse 1000 nuclear reactors, the culmination of some 10 years of work to resolve civil nuclear issues. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. and Westinghouse had confirmed engineering and site design work would begin immediately. Westinghouse and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India would work toward finalizing the contract by June 2017, a year later than Westinghouse's chief executive, Daniel Roderick, said he hoped for in an interview with Reuters in late March. CLIMATE CHANGE PROGRESS The two sides agreed to work together on an "ambitious" amendment to an international pact known as the Montreal Protocol to reduce hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, a particularly potent greenhouse gas. The two countries said India would take steps to join the Paris agreement this year. "India and the United States recognize the urgency of climate change and share the goal of enabling entry into force of the Paris Agreement as early as possible," their joint statement said. "The United States reaffirms its commitment to join the agreement as soon as possible this year. India similarly has begun its processes to work toward this shared objective." The agreement, forged in 2015, will take effect when at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions ratify it. By late last month 17 small countries had ratified it, according to the United Nations, and many others including the United States and China have pledged to do so in 2016. Environmental groups had hoped Modi would say that India was ready to ratify the agreement during his Washington trip to cross that 55 percent threshold. “With India now on board, a growing chorus of countries are seeking to bring the Paris Agreement into full effect as soon as possible," said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, in a statement. (Additional reporting by Valerie Volcivici and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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