July 09, 2011

US, India dialogue to focus on Afghan, counter-terrorism

July 09, 2011 9:46:59 PM

S Rajagopalan | Washington


Cooperation on counter-terrorism and the evolving situation in Afghanistan are among a host of key issues set to be taken up at the high-power India-US strategic dialogue, to be held in New Delhi on July 19.

Issues relating to the nuclear waiver for India, defence cooperation, economic ties and an upcoming bilateral education summit are all likely to feature in this second round of strategic dialogue.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who co-chairs the meeting with External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, will be arriving in New Delhi with a team of senior officials drawn from various departments of the Obama administration.

“The depth of the US-India strategic dialogue demonstrates the United States’ strong support for India as an important actor on the world stage and is representative of the broad and multifaceted US-India relationship,” a State Department announcement said.

It spoke of the expanding partnership between the two countries that now cover "issues ranging from counter-terrorism and defence cooperation to climate change, high-tech trade and scientific innovation".

Clinton’s two-day visit will also take her to Chennai, said to be the first visit by a serving Secretary of State to the southern metropolis which, the announcement noted, has "emerged as a hub of trade, investment and people-to-people engagement that is driving the US-India relationship”.

Previewing Clinton’s visit and the strategic dialogue, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said the US and India have come a very long way in the last 10 years. “We’ve built up our bilateral cooperation. We’ve begun to cooperate at the regional level where we have a terrific dialogue on all of the regional issues that India and the United States confront,” he said, during a web chat with a group of reporters from Washington and New Delhi.

Strategic partnership with India now involves working together on such big issues as non-proliferation and climate change, he said, adding: “And this year I think we’re going to really take it to the next level by talking about important issues like our cooperation in Afghanistan, important issues like how we expand our cooperation in Asia.”

Blake’s comments were being viewed with significance against the backdrop of the US’s plan to begin this month its phased pullout of troops from Afghanistan.

In reply to a question, Blake said the US will continue to work very closely with India through the Afghan transition process that envisages Afghanistan assuming responsibility for its own security by the end of 2014.

“I expect this will be a very important part of our strategic dialogue consultations,” he said, stressing that the US's troop withdrawals for now are relatively modest. (Obama’s plan envisages withdrawing 10,000 US troops by the end of this year, another 23,000 by the summer of 2012 and the remaining 70,000 troops by 2014.)

On counter-terrorism cooperation, he said: “This is a very high priority for the United States to look with our Indian friends to ensure they have the best system possible to prevent future terrorist attacks such as the terrible attack that occurred in Mumbai in November 2008.”

Preparatory to the strategic dialogue, the two countries recently had a successful homeland security dialogue in New Delhi that was co-chaired by Home Minister P Chidambaram and US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

Blake, who responded to reporters' questions hosted a web chat with a select group of reporters in Washington and New Delhi, reiterated that the recent decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to strengthen guidelines on transfer of enrichment and processing technologies (ENR) will not in any way detract from the US's existing civil nuclear cooperation with India.

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