US, India to resolve ‘irritants’ ahead of Obama visit (Lead)

September 28th, 2010 - 2:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Arun Kumar
New York, Sep 28 (IANS) Expressing confidence that “irritants” like US export controls, visa fee hike and the Indian nuclear liability bill would be resolved soon, the US says President Barack Obama’s India visit will be a “defining moment” in history.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna “agreed that the president’s visit will be a defining moment in the history of our bilateral relations”, a senior US official said Monday after a meeting here between the two leaders.

Briefing reporters by conference call on the 30-minute Clinton-Krishna meeting to lay the groundwork for Obama’s India visit, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robert Blake said the president and “all our senior American leaders have emphasised the important stake in India’s emergence as a global power”.

“In a relationship as large and as wide ranging and as complicated as ours there are always going to be irritants,” he said. But there was “goodwill on both sides to resolve all of those irritants, including the liability issue and the visa issue”, Blake said expressing confidence that “we will be able to work through these issues”.

The US official declined to go into details about possible solutions to the issues that came up in a general way at the Krishna-Clinton meeting “because obviously we want to try to resolve these issues in private, not in public”.

On the issue of US controls on export of high tech items to India, the US was “looking to find a positive way forward”, Blake said. “We are not quite there yet. So we need to continue to work on that. And again I am confident of a positive outcome.”

The official said he didn’t want to describe the Indian nuclear liability bill as an “irritant”, but it was “an important priority for the US and we continue to encourage the Indian government to provide domestic and international suppliers, including Americans, the opportunity to meet its ambitious nuclear power generation goals.”

The US has “taken note of some of the concerns that industry representatives have raised about some of the provisions of the liability bill and that the bill may possibly be inconsistent with international standards”, Blake said.

“We look forward to working with the Indian government to work our way through this and arrive at a solution where American industry can contribute to India’s ambitious civil nuclear energy needs,” he said.

The bone of contention in the Indian legislation is a clause allowing nuclear power plant operators to pursue suppliers of equipment, raw materials and services for liability for 80 years after the construction of any plant in the event of an accident.

Asked about the issue of permanent UN Security Council membership for India in the context of reforms of the world body’s top decision-making body, Blake said that had not come up in the Krishna-Clinton meeting Monday.

“But that’s something that’s under discussion as we prepare for President Obama’s visit,” he said. “I don’t have anything to report at this stage. But again this is under discussion.”

Blake said Under Secretary of State Bill Burns and he himself would probably go to India in October to “try to clean up any last minute issues that might still exist and make sure that everything is ready for the president’s visit”.

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

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