US says it values relationship with India as Menon begins dialogue

March 10th, 2009 - 11:30 am ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 10 (IANS) The United States declared it values the relationship with India as Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon began the first high-level interaction with President Barack Obama’s administration with meetings with his chief diplomat and other top aides.

Before separate meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department and national security advisor, Gen James Jones, at the White House Monday, Menon also met Deputy Secretary James B. Steinberg and US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke.

Indian officials would not say what transpired at these meetings, but before the talks State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters Clinton and Menon would discuss a host of issues including the conflict in Afghanistan and the investigation into the Nov 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 170 people.

“We value the relationship between the United States and India,” Wood said. “As you know, Foreign Secretary Menon was a key player in terms of helping bring about or brokering the US-India cvil Nuclear accord,” he said.

Asked if Holbrooke would be present, Wood first said he didn’t know and didn ‘t “see that that’s relevant” as the special envoy’s portfolio “is Afghanistan-Pakistan.” But later after the meeting he confirmed that Holbrooke did not join the Clinton-Menon meeting.

Holbrooke, he recalled, “had discussions with the Indians” when he visited New Delhi last month after a fact finding listening tour of Afghanistan and Pakistan ahead of an ongoing review of Obama administration’s policy on the two nations.

Holbrooke had then invited India, considered a key player in the region, to provide its inputs for the policy review.

“Certainly, the Secretary will be talking with Foreign Secretary Menon about the subject of Afghanistan, so that’s certainly expected,” he said.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta were here last month for what was described as a “valuable and unprecedented meeting” as part of the ongoing US policy review.

Menon continues his hectic diplomacy Tuesday with a meeting with his counterpart Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns focusing on bilateral issues like how to take the India-US civil nuclear deal signed during the last days of former President George W. Bush and the upcoming G-20 summit in London.

Menon would also have talks at the Pentagon with defence officials, leading lawmakers and think tanks during his four-day visit ending Wednesday.

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