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Hillary discusses Sri Lanka crisis with Foreign Secretary Menon
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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March 10, 2009 08:44 IST

The situation in Sri Lanka [Images], where thousands of Tamil civilians are trapped in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's strongholds, permeated the 45-minute discussion on Monday between United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [Images] and Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon. This was the first high-level interaction between India and the Obama [Images] administration in Washington.

Administration sources told that "a discussion of one regional issue, in particular, was Sri Lanka -- the importance of trying to find a way to make sure that whatever happens in the armed conflict, that there is a political settlement in the future that both the US and India can help create, and participate in."

Explaining why the Sri Lanka crisis took center-stage during the discussion on regional issues, the source said, "The Secretary is very concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka and there is a sense that maybe there are things we (the US and India) can do together."

Menon, according to the sources, 'was quite positive', in terms of concurrence with the concerns expressed by Clinton, although there was 'nothing specified' in terms on how this situation could be alleviated, but broadly "the idea that this is an area where we both have capabilities and interests and we'd like to be helpful."

Earlier, Menon had met separately with US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador [Images] Richard Holbrooke -- whom he had met earlier in New Delhi [Images] during the latter's recent visit to South Asia -- and had a working luncheon with him and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.

Describing the meeting between Clinton and Menon, sources said, "The atmosphere was very warm and cordial."

"The main theme for both Secretary Clinton and the Foreign Secretary was the importance of a US-India partnership and the global partnership in their views focused on issues like the world economy, climate change, energy security, nonproliferation -- all of these issues that affect both our countries," the sources added.

"There was also a discussion of the excellent US-India counter-terrorism collaboration, particularly after the Mumbai [Images] attacks, and Secretary Clinton also thanked India for its assistance efforts in Afghanistan," the sources said.

Menon had praised Clinton "for all her efforts in the past in helping to bring about the transformed relationship between the United States and India," they said.

The Secretary and Menon "also both talked about what a great gesture and great success it was to have Martin Luther King III (son of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr, who was inspired in his civil rights struggle by Mahatma Gandhi [Images]) re-trace the steps of his parents through India."

Asked if India had expressed any concerns about indications that the Obama administration may become protectionist over issues like outsourcing and also in pushing a nonproliferation agenda and cajoling India into signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the sources said that "there weren't any concerns expressed along those lines."

"I don't think we have a lot to be concerned about. I think the President is very clear where he stands on the civil nuclear agreement for instance. So, I don't think that's an issue," one source said.

The sources said there wasn't any detailed discussion of the Indo-US nuclear deal except that both sides had expressed "how pleased they were that it had been completed. But it did not come up in detail whatsoever."

The sources added that discussion on the implementation of the nuclear deal and other bilateral issues would figure when Menon meets Under Secretary of State William [Images] Burns on Tuesday for a continuation of the high-level talks.

"Under Secretary Burns, as you know, has been for quite a while, been sort of the driver of the US-India bilateral relationship, and I expect that will continue," one source said, adding, "so more discussions on the US-India civilian nuclear deal are likely."

Essentially, the sources said that this first high level meeting between the two sides in Washington was very much 'on a broad and general level', with an reaffirmation and reiteration of each side's commitment to the envisaged US-India strategic partnership.

Besides Clinton, the meeting was attended by Under Secretary Burns, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Don Camp and State Department spokesman Robert Wood, who was taking notes, the source informed.

Menon was accompanied by Ambassador Ronen Sen, Deputy Chief of Mission at the embassy in Washington Arun Kumar Singh, Joint Secretary Gayathri Kumar and other External Affairs Ministry officials.

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