India, US discuss Pakistan amid speculation on Manmohan-Zardari meet (Roundup)

June 10th, 2009 - 9:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama New Delhi, June 10 (IANS) Keeping its options open about resuming the dialogue with Pakistan, India Tuesday conveyed to the US that Islamabad’s continuing inaction against the 26/11 perpetrators hobbles any effort to normalise their ties. New Delhi and Washington also sought to begin “a new phase” of their strategic partnership.
Amid apprehensions in some quarters in India about a slowdown in bilateral ties under the Obama administration, a senior US diplomat described India as “a major foreign policy priority”.

“President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have sent me with a straightforward message that India is a major foreign policy priority for the US,” Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, who began his four-day visit to India Wednesday, told reporters here.

“We consider India as a global partner of the US in the 21st century,” Burns maintained.

“I am here to chart an ambitious bilateral agenda together for the next phase of our strategic partnership,” said Burns, underlining that he had “excellent discussions” with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon on a range of issues aimed at taking forward the India-US relationship.

Burns also called on External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

He is expected to call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani Thursday. He will also meet National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and discuss with him security issues and enhanced intelligence cooperation between the two countries.

US Assistant Secretary for South Asia and Central Asia Robert Blake, a former deputy chief of mission in New Delhi, is accompanying Burns on this important visit that marks the first contact between the Obama administration and the Manmohan Singh government since it returned to power last month.

The talks focused on firming up a comprehensive agenda for Clinton’s India visit next month. The two sides also discussed regional and global issues like the situation in the volatile Afghanistan and Pakistan region and non-proliferation.

They reviewed an entire gamut of bilateral issues and spent some time discussing defence and economic ties and issues relating to nuclear trade.

The two sides also discussed the possibility of signing an “end-use verification agreement” for all military purchases India makes from the US, a key step that is expected to give a big push to the US defence sales to India.

The Nov 26-29, 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, in which six American nationals were among the over 170 killed, also figured prominently in discussions, reliable sources said.

India conveyed its concerns over Pakistan’s “inaction” against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage and cited the release of Jamaat-ud-Daawa (JuD) Hafiz Saeed, the suspected mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, by a Pakistan court last week to underscore Islamabad’s lack of sincerity in addressing India’s concerns over cross-border terrorism, the sources said.

Burns conveyed the US’ view about the need for India and Pakistan to resume talks that, in its opinion, could create a better climate for fighting terrorism and extremism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

“Clearly, we would support more dialogue” between India and Pakistan, US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said when asked if Washington was pushing for a resumption of peace talks between the two countries.

“I’m sure that Undersecretary Burns will talk about this issue among the many issues that he has on his agenda,” Kelly said in Washington Tuesday.

Manmohan Singh Tuesday told parliament that “it is in India’s vital interests to again try to make peace with Pakistan.” These remarks were interpreted as a sign of India’s readiness to resume the composite dialogue that was stalled after the Mumbai attacks.

The remarks also acquired added significance in view of speculation about a possible meeting between Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg June 16.

The two leaders are expected to meet on the sidelines of the summit of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) where the two countries have observer status.

Burns leaves for Mumbai Friday where he will meet Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and captains of business and industry in the city. He is likely to visit the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel that was ravaged during the Mumbai mayhem.

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