Nirupama Rao in US to Prepare Ground for Obama Visit

By Arun Kumar

Washington, Sep 17 (IANS) Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao began a hectic round of diplomacy to iron out differences over issues like outsourcing and hiked visa fees and prepare the ground for US President Barack Obama's history making visit to India in November.

Rao began her round of talks in Washington with a meeting Thursday with her counterpart Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns at the State Department.

Officials from either side declined to say anything about the substance of the Burn-Rao meeting except to indicate that it was part of a flurry of visits to firm up the agenda and think up some big ticket items for the New Delhi summit.

She is set to meet senior officials at the defence and commerce departments as also Obama's National Security council Friday. A meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also on the cards.

Rao would Friday address a closed door meeting of experts at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank focused on defence and security, regional stability, and transnational challenges like energy and climate.

Saturday, she leaves for New York to join External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna when he arrives to participate in the UN General Assembly session next week.

Rao's discussions in Washington are expected to focus on firming up key deliverables during the Obama visit that should send a powerful message that the India-US global strategic partnership is set to keep its momentum under the new regime in Washington.

From India's point of view, the easing of high-tech exports through removal of Indian companies from the US Entity List and a greater strategic understanding on the Afghanistan-Pakistan issues could be two important highlights of the visit.

Meanwhile, US Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, has said that Washington was well aware of India's concerns over restrictions on exports of high-tech items and is making progress in talks with New Delhi over the issue.

"Actually, those discussions are occurring right now with high government officials of India," he said during a tele-conference Wednesday.

Deputy National Security Advisor, Mike Froman, said that India would actually benefit from the export control reform announced by Obama Aug 31 to focus US efforts on a smaller number of critical technologies, while allowing export of less-critical technologies more freely to more destinations.

Rao's visit to the US will be followed by that of Commerce Minister Anand Sharma next week and Defence Minister A.K. Antony later this month.

The outsourcing-related issues are expected to figure in greater detail when Sharma meets US Trade Representative Ron Kirk at the joint Trade Policy Forum (TPF) here Sep 21.

Antony's visit, likely in September-end, will put the focus on giving a fresh impetus to the defence relationship between India and the US that continues to suffer from the absence of a proper framework and trust deficit problems.



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