US-India Strategic Dialogue to Prepare Ground for Obama Visit

By Arun Kumar

Washington, May 29 (IANS): The inaugural US-India strategic dialogue here next week would prepare the ground for President Barack Obama's visit to India in autumn, say officials.

"Let me just say that there has not been any change," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake told reporters Friday asserting "the Obama Administration attaches great importance to our relations with India."

"As President Obama himself has said, this will be one of our signature partnerships in the 21st century," he said pointing to the fact that Obama had invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first state visit of his administration last November "to reaffirm the importance that we attach to our relations with India."

"One of the purposes of the strategic dialogue is to think through what are the big, new opportunities and where are the big areas of cooperation," Blake said suggesting sceptics perceptions would be best addressed "just by delivering results and by showing, in a concrete way, all of the various things that we're doing."

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a team of ministers and officials at the June 2-3 dialogue covering a wide range of areas, including high technology trade, science & technology, civil nuclear cooperation, agriculture, human resource development, security and other strategic issues.

After the dialogue "there will be deliverables" Blake said. But "the purpose of this dialogue is really to think strategically and, again, to get the key people who work on these issues together to think ahead to the President's visit and to think strategically about what we can do."

Among the global and regional issues the situation in Afghanistan Pakistan region would be the key focus area. The two sides will also talk about Iran as "the United States and India both share a concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions, and both of us are opposed to any kind of nuclear arms for Iran."

On the bilateral front, "we have 18 separate dialogues underway between the United States and India to really try to capture the full scope of the opportunities ahead of us," Blake said.

Tone for the discussions was set by Obama's phone call Friday to Manmohan Singh when the "leaders agreed that the Dialogue is an important milestone in the development of the US-India strategic partnership and looked forward to its results."

Obama and Singh "also expressed their hope that the Dialogue will initiate a regular exchange of ideas and discussion between their governments and both pledged their support toward that end," according to a White House readout of the call.

The dialogue gets underway June 2 with the 35th annual meeting of the US-India Business Council, while Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and US Under Secretary of Political Affairs Bill Burns "will oversee a very wide-ranging foreign policy dialogue that will cover Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, probably China, and many other topics."

The main strategic dialogue on June 3 chaired by Clinton and Krishna will be "about not so much what we've accomplished, but to look ahead about what we can accomplish, and particularly look ahead to the President's visit sometime this fall to India," Blake said.

On the Indian side, Krishna will be joined by Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and the Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan and other top officials.

On the US side, Clinton will be joined by National Security Advisor James Jones, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, FBI Director Robert Mueller and the USAID Director Rajiv Shah.



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