United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit India early next month as part of a three-nation Asia tour to consult with the Indian leadership on key regional and global issues including Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Myanmar.
Clinton's sudden decision to visit India came as a surprise as a stopover in New Delhi was not on her initial Asia itinerary that was primarily meant to attend the fourth round of US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing on May 3-4.
She will be visiting Bangladesh and India from May 5 to May 8. The secretary will be visiting Kolkata and New Delhi during her trip to India.
The visit to New Delhi, a month ahead of the scheduled India-US Strategic Dialogue on June 13, signifies the importance Clinton personally attaches to America's relationship with India. This also sends a clear message to all those critics who of late have been telling that all is not well for India-US relationship.
In Kolkata, the secretary looks forward to meeting state officials and other civil society organisation representatives.
During her India trip, Clinton is expected to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, besides having talks with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna. She will also review progress in the strategic partnership, looking forward to the India-US strategic Dialogue to held in Washington on June 13.
The meeting between Clinton and Indian leaders gains significance as it comes immediately after her high-level talks in China and comes ahead of the crucial NATO summit in Chicago wherein some important decisions are expected to be made on Afghanistan.
The Obama administration considers it essential to have consultations with India on all issues related to Afghanistan and believes that taking New Delhi into confidence ahead of the Chicago Summit would be crucial to the success of the decisions NATO leaders would take mid-May.
Clinton's unexpected India trip is also expected to set in motion a flurry of high-profile visits of top US leaders to India in the next few months. Media reports said that Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to visit India in early June for talks with his counterpart A K Antony.
Last week, visiting Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner would be visiting India possibly in June for the next round of India-US Economic Dialogue. No formal announcements have been made yet.
Clinton, officials said, would also make ground for the June's Strategic Dialogue for which Krishna would be travelling to Washington. A large number of cabinet ministers from both the countries are expected to participate in the Strategic Dialogue.
Officials point out that Clinton, who has announced that she would relinquish her current position next year, wants to leave a permanent impression of her on the India-US relationship. Officials from both the countries are still holding discussions on what that could be.
Besides bilateral issues, Clinton during her India trip is expected to discuss with her Indian counterparts India's recent peace talks with Pakistan, which has always been encouraged by the Obama administration. The visit would also send a strong signal to China.
Clinton will not be visiting Pakistan this time.