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Clinton seeks 'most wide-ranging talks ever' with India

By Suman Guha Mozumder
July 16, 2009 10:21 IST
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When United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits India later this week, her engagement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as her counterpart S M Krishna will touch upon issues beyond the realm of traditional foreign policy matters.

Clinton on Wednesday said that that the two countries will be engaging in a very broad and comprehensive dialogue, "the most wide-ranging that has ever been put on the table between India and the United States."

This will include, by her own admission, issues related to climate change and clean energy.

Responding to a question from Teresita Schaffer, former US ambassador to Sri Lanka, after delivering a comprehensive lecture at the Council on Foreign Relations on American Foreign Policy under the Barck Obama administration, Clinton said the discussions would include a wide range of topics like foreign policy, strategic challenges, health, education, agriculture and economy.

"I do not want to prejudge, but it is clear that everything is on the table to discuss. We believe that India has a tremendous opportunity and a growing responsibility, which they acknowledge, to play not just a regional role but a global one as well," Clinton said.

She indicated that discussing nuclear non-proliferation with her Indian counterpart was on her agenda. "Obviously, a number of areas where we would welcome Indian leadership and involvement are difficult ones. There is nothing easy about non-proliferation," she said.

"Anybody who ever read Strobe Talbot's book Engaging India knows that it is a very difficult issue, but we want to look at new ways for global and regional regimes on weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear. We are very interested in the role that India sees for itself in the immediate area," Clinton said.

She noted that US President Barack Obama is committed to the vision of a world without nuclear weapons and has planned a series of concrete steps to reduce the threat and spread of these weapons, including working with the Senate to ratify the follow-on START agreement and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, taking on greater responsibility within the Non Proliferation Treaty Framework and convening the world's leaders in Washington next year for a nuclear summit.

"Now we must urge others to take practical steps to advance our shared nonproliferation agenda," Clinton said in her address.

The Secretary of State also indicated that she would like to find out from her counterpart about the military implications, particularly naval ones, of decisions that India is making with regard to Sri Lanka. She would also try to learn about the economic actions that India, which weathered the beginning of the global recession better than many nations, is taking and what the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government is going to do to keep generating growth and lifting people out of poverty.

During her three-day visit to India beginning Saturday, Clinton, who will be accompanied by Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern among others, will also visit the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified building in India to talk about climate change and clean energy.

"We know that India and China have understandable questions about what role they should be expected to play in any kind of new global climate change regime. It is our hope that we can, through dialogue, come up with some win-win approaches. And this LEED-certified building is a perfect example of what India would be capable of doing," she said.

Clinton would also visit an agricultural facility during her visit. She said while India is really hoping to continue to expand agricultural productivity, it has to create suitable infrastructure to provide the right market.

"We have to have farm-to-market roads. You have to have storage and refrigeration facilities. So I think that this is an extremely rich area. I've just touched the surface of it. So I'm excited. I'm very much looking forward to my meetings with Prime Minister (Dr Manmohan Singh) and certainly with (External Affairs) Minister S M Krishna and others in India, and we're going to do everything we can to broaden and deepen our engagement," she said.

At a special briefing on Clinton's India visit at the State Department, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake said that the purpose of the trip is to broaden and strengthen the strategic partnership between the US and India, and also to highlight the extensive cooperation that is already taking place between the non-governmental people on both sides like scientists, academics and students.

"Those really underpin our relations and kind of propel them forward.  So we really want to highlight those during the trip," Blake said.

He said President Obama and Secretary Clinton both see India as a really important partner, not only to address bilateral issues, but also as a nation that can work with the US to 'shape the world of the 21st century'.

"So in terms of what we're trying to accomplish, the Secretary and her counterpart, Foreign Minister Krishna, will announce on Monday the elements of our new partnership," he said.

"Broadly speaking, what we're going to do is continue the successful cooperation we've had on issues like defence, counterterrorism, trade, while also forging new initiatives on things like agriculture, education, science and technology, and women's empowerment," Blake said.

In response to a question, if an agreement on end use monitoring is expected during the trip agreement and whether India may announce sites for the US designated nuclear power plants, Blake said that US is hopeful about the EUM pact.

"We hope to be able to sign that, and obviously, that will take place on Monday of next week.  On the question of the two nuclear sites, again, we hope that we'll be in a position to be able to announce publicly those two sites where US companies can have exclusive right to locate reactors and sell reactors to the Indians," he said.

"We think that that's a major opportunity for American companies.  It opens up as much as $10 billion worth of new exports to India.  So again, we hope to be in a position for both sides to announce it," Blake said.

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Suman Guha Mozumder