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All is well, Obama to tell PM

Last updated on: April 09, 2010 12:35 IST

United States President Obama will host Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a mini bilateral summit before the start of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington beginning April 12, instead of the brief meeting originally slated on the margins of the parley, claim sources. The report about the possible meeting comes amidst growing concern in both the US and New Delhi that the Obama administration has been ignoring India.

Administration and diplomatic sources told rediff.com that senior State Department officials, led by Under Secretary of State William Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robert Blake, had apparently prevailed on the White House to schedule a separate structured meeting between President Obama and Dr Singh.

During the meeting, Obama is expected to reinforce his commitment to a strategic partnership with India to allay any doubts that all is not well in India-US relations.

Earlier, Dr Singh, who will arrive in Washington on April 12, was expected to meet briefly with President Obama.

But sources told rediff.com that it's now likely that President Obama will now host Dr Singh on April 11 at a rare Sunday meeting at the White House and reassure the PM of his commitment to the strategic partnership with India. He will also try and allay New Delhi's concerns over providing access to Pakistani-American and Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Coleman Headley and India's role in Afghanistan.

According to sources, at the mini bilateral summit, Obama will also reiterate his intent to visit India this summer.

The sources refused to disclose the exact time when this mini-summit between Obama and Dr Singh will take place on Sunday, but diplomatic sources acknowledged that this would envisage the PM flying directly to Washington late Saturday or in the wee hours of Sunday, canceling the scheduled stopover in Frankfurt.

During the summit on April 13, Dr Singh would have been among a handful of leaders who would be making an intervention in the first plenary focusing on national measures to deal with nuclear security.

Both this plenary and the afternoon plenary on international cooperation, to enhance nuclear security, will otherwise be a rectangular table discussion, punctuated by  the luncheon keynote address by the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Deputy National Security Adviser Michael Froman, keynoting a recent US-India Business Council meeting, had declared, "Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's attendance will be key to the success of the summit."

The issue of Iran allegedly developing nuclear weapons and the US retaliating by pushing for coercive punitive sanctions will clearly figure in the informal meetings. But diplomatic sources said India will not have to walk a tightrope over the issue as "Iran is not on the formal agenda."

Incidentally, India had agreed to attend an energy summit hosted by Iran following Obama's Nuclear Security Summit, which Teheran has dubbed as "nuclear energy for everyone, nuclear weapons for no one."

India will also not have to deal with questions about its refusal to be a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, because the focus of the summit is clearly on the security of nuclear materials, leaving other broad topics such as nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful nuclear energy to different forums.

Robert J Einhorn, special adviser on nonproliferation and arms control to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said, "We talk about these issues on a bilateral and multilateral basis with India quite frequently."

"What's especially important to us is that India behaves in a responsible manner. And it has behaved in a responsible manner," he added.

Einhorn predicted, "India is not going to join the NPT for quite some time, if at all. We understand that. But we want India to work with us in strengthening the nonproliferation regime."

The sources acknowledged that in the bilateral meeting between Obama and Dr Singh, the contentious issue of Iran was sure to come up, with Obama privately seeking India's support in the coalition that the US is mobilising to penalise Iran.

The summit will conclude with an outcome declaration, after which Obama will host yet another reception for the participants, following it up with a press conference.

Later, on April 13, Dr Singh is slated to hold his own press conference.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC