By Arun Kumar
Washington, Apr 16 (IANS): Close on the heels of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit here, the US' second top ranking diplomat will visit India "to discuss a range of bilateral and multilateral issues that advance our bilateral relationship".
Deputy Secretary James B. Steinberg is travelling to India and Bangladesh April 20-22. This is his first visit to India and Bangladesh as deputy secretary, the State Department announced Thursday.
"Steinberg will meet with government officials and other political figures, and business, civil society, and opinion leaders in New Delhi, Kolkata, and Dhaka," it said.
"He will discuss a range of bilateral and multilateral issues that advance our bilateral relationships with both India and Bangladesh."
Beyond saying that "Steinberg looks forward to his visit to India and Bangladesh", spokesperson P.J. Crowley would not divulge the purpose of his visit. Nor did he see a connection between the visit and a trip to the State Department Thursday by the Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar.
"I'm not sure that there's a connection between the two," he said when asked if Shankar had been asked to convey a message to New Delhi. "I do not know," he added when asked if she had been called to the State Department.
Asked whether there was a difference in the tonal quality of President Barack Obama's bilateral talks with Manmohan Singh and Pakistan Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the nuclear security summit, Crowley said: "I can't characterise the - whatever the tone was."
"Obviously, we are talking to both India and Pakistan about their nuclear programmes and the responsibilities that come with them."
Asked to comment on Manmohan Singh's view that sanctions against Iran will hurt only the poor people and not the ruling establishment, he said: "Our approach to potential sanctions against Iran is, in fact, to direct sanctions intelligently at those who are directly connected and support Iran's nuclear programme, without placing undue hardship on the Iranian people."
When asked if that meant US and India are on the same page regarding sanctions, Crowley said: "I can't speak for India. I know that there's work now being done in New York on the particulars of a (UN) resolution. That track is continuing."
The US had also tried to engage Iran but it "has yet to officially respond within the IAEA to the proposal put on the table last September in Geneva," he said. "And for that, we believe earnestly that now is the time for action; there should be consequences for Iran's failure to meet its obligations."
On the talks with the Indian delegation regarding Iran at the nuclear summit, he said: "We are talking to - I mean, there were 47 countries here this week, and I suspect in most, if not all cases, we found a way to talk to them. And Iran obviously was a major topic of discussion."