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Hyderabad blasts cast shadow on Mathai-Kerry meeting

Last updated on: February 22, 2013 12:52 IST

The first thing the new US Secretary of State, John F Kerry, did when Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai called on him February 21, was to offer his condolences and sympathies to the government and people of India over the Hyderabad bomb blasts and inquire if there was any update on the situation and if the perpetrators of this act of terrorism had been identified.

Sources said that thereafter, much of the brief 10-minute meeting had been consumed by a discussion of counter-terrorism and the need for both the US and India to redouble their cooperation in this effort and further enhance intelligence sharing, and hence there was hardly any time to even run though some of the other bilateral and regional issues.

Immediately after his meeting with Mathai, the erstwhile US Senator from Massachusetts and ex-chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, debuted on Twitter in his new avatar, with, ‘Saw friend/Foreign Secretary Mathai -- discussed importance of relationship w/#India, expressed sympathies to brave people of Hyderabad-JK.’ Although it was a personal tweet, where he signed off with his initial JK, Kerry used the Department of State Twitter handle.

Although much of the brief meeting was permeated with the news of the twin blasts in Hyderabad and the need for both countries to jointly combat the scourge of terrorism, according to sources, Kerry emphasised and reiterated the importance of India and expressed his desire to engage and start discussions with India.

Mathai had also discussed the proposed visit to India by Kerry for the third round of the Bilateral Strategic Dialogue, but sources acknowledged that although a June 17 date had been mentioned by India, “his staff hasn’t narrowed it down,” and the dates were yet to be finalised.

Sources said all of Mathai’s other meetings – where, once again, the officials at the outset condemned the terror attacks -- had been substantive on both bilateral, regional and global issues. The working luncheon that his diplomatic vis-à-vis Wendy Sherman had hosted, which went on for three hours, covered the gamut of issues, with particular reference to Afghanistan and also the rest of the region, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the situation in Maldives.

The foreign secretary also called upon Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman. During the luncheon he also had an extended conversation with Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment Robert Hormats, who recently visited India immediately after the induction of the second Obama administration. 

One source said both sides had now developed “a habit of consultations and we speak in a friendly way even where they are seeking clarifications.”

Administration officials acknowledged that the US had brought up Washington’s concerns over the continuing impasse over the implementation of the landmark US-India civilian nuclear deal. But Mathai and the Indian delegation pointed out that while Westinghouse was making some progress in moving forward and had inspected some sites in Gujarat too, General Electric was seemingly somewhat diffident in the wake of India’s insistence that it would not compromise on the Nuclear Liability Law passed by Parliament.

Mathai also made a major pitch for movement in energy cooperation “in the larger sense,” beyond even the envisaged shale gas discussions and stressed the innumerable opportunities in solar energy, clean energy and renewables. If this energy cooperation could be taken to the next level, “it could be a real big game-changer,” with large-scale investments coming from India for exploration and a tangible contribution to climate change and necessarily a diminution of India’s carbon emissions.

“You will start a chain of investments far bigger than anything we’ve had before,” the foreign secretary predicted.

Earlier, before his hectic round of meetings with Kerry and senior administration officials, Mathai, in a major tour-de-force, set out a detailed blueprint of the bilateral relationship in an address on India and the United States in the 21st century, covering all areas of the bilateral partnership, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

It was during the interaction that followed that Mathai was informed of the Hyderabad blasts and a question was posed about what coherent strategies for counterterrorism has been developed by the government to address the growing issue of home-grown terrorism.

Refusing to summarily subscribe to the contention that the Hyderabad blasts could be only construed as home-grown terrorism and declaring that terrorism perpetrated against India was more often than not “inspired” from outside, Mathai said, “I am not sure there is any evidence that it could be home-grown terrorism. We have had a number of attacks, which have been traced to inspiration outside the country. I don’t know yet. We’ll have to wait till the investigation reports are being completed.”

Image: US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with  Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, far right, at the US Department of State in Washington, DC, February 21, 2013. Also pictured, left to right, are Indian Ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and US Ambassador to India Nancy J Powell. Photo courtesy: US State Department

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC