Obama writes to ‘absolutely critical country’ India (Lead)

June 11th, 2009 - 7:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Arun Kumar
Washington, June 11 (IANS) Underscoring the importance of working closely with India, “an absolutely critical country” in the region, US President Barack Obama has despatched a personal letter to New Delhi through a top envoy.

“We consider India an absolutely critical country in the region,” the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said Wednesday disclosing the despatch of the “presidential letter” through US Undersecretary of State William Burns.

“They’re not part of the problem, but they are vitally affected, and we want to work closely with them,” he added explaining what some observers have described as a hole in Obama administration’s foreign policy focused on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“All I can tell you is that this Administration believes that what happens in Afghanistan and Pakistan is of vital interest to our national security, he said. “And India is a country that we must keep in the closest consultations with.”

The entire Obama administration is looking forward to working with the new Indian government, he said making it clear that any perceived delay in initiating a contact with New Delhi was not due to lack in warmth, but the fact that India was going through the elections.

Burns, who is in New Delhi to make the first high-level contact with the Manmohan Singh government since its return to power, “is now beginning the dialogue with the newly elected government in an atmosphere of great positive feelings,” he said.

“It’s a private letter,” said Holbrooke declining to disclose the contents. “But the important thing is that the number three person in the Department of State has gone to India to reaffirm immediately after the election,” he said.

“And without getting into Indian politics, all I can say is that all of us - Secretary (of State) Hillary Clinton, Bill Burns, myself, President Obama - everyone looks forward to working with the newly elected Indian government.

“He is carrying the messages that I would have carried if I had had time to go to New Delhi on this trip, but I couldn’t do it,” said the envoy, who visited Pakistan last week to assess relief efforts to help the estimated two million people who have fled a Pakistani offensive against the Taliban.

“The Indians were very frank with us. They wanted to keep in touch with us during the election period, but they had to wait through the election, just like we do. It’s the world’s two greatest democracies.”

Burns’ India visit would also prepare the ground for Hillary Clinton’s first visit to India since becoming the nation’s top diplomat in January. The visit is expected sometime in July.

Holbrooke, who visited New Delhi on his first two trips to the region, said next week he would meet the new Indian ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, whom he already met twice.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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