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Kerry leaves for India to attend annual strategic dialogue

By Lalit K Jha
June 21, 2013 21:04 IST
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United States Secretary of State John Kerry, heading a high-powered delegation of his cabinet colleagues and top military commanders, on Friday left for India as part of his 10-day seven nation Asia trip.

On his maiden India trip as the top American diplomat, Kerry would co-chair the fourth annual India-US Strategic Dialogue along with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on June 24 and meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He would inaugurate the Higher Education Dialogue the next day. It will reflective of whole-of-government approach and the wide spectrum of government-to-government activity the US has with India, a senior state department official told reporters travelling with Kerry.

Before leaving for India, Kerry in a video message to Indians said a strong India is in US national interest. "The US not only welcomes India as a rising power; we fervently support it," Kerry said in his nearly five minute video message, which he starts with Namaskar.

"That's why President (Barack) Obama and I support India's inclusion as a member, a permanent member, of a reformed and expanded United Nations Security Council," he said.

Among important members of the US delegation led by Kerry are Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz; Commander of the US Pacific Command or PACOM Admiral Samuel J Locklear; NASA Administrator Charles Bolten; USAID Administrator Raj Shah; Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Rand Beers, Science and Technology Advisor John P Holdren; and Fred P Hochberg, Chairman and President of the Export-Import Bank.

Topping the list of Kerry's agenda would be the economic issues.

"There are concerns on the part of the American business community about some obstacles to trade, so I'm sure those will be discussed -- things such as intellectual property protection, local content restrictions, continued restrictions on foreign direct investment, taxation problems," a senior State Department official told mediapersons.

"So we want to talk not only about those, but how we can continue to invigorate our trade and investment relationship," the official said, adding that clean energy and climate change would be another important area of discussion; in addition to innovation and higher education.

"Then, of course, I'm sure there will be a good discussion on the range of important regional issues that the US works with India on. First, of course, will be Afghanistan and the strong cooperation that we have with India on Afghanistan and, of course, India's leadership in helping to promote the New Silk Road vision of regional integration," the official said.

"Secondly, I'm sure there will be a discussion about the opportunities for progress between India and Pakistan now that the new Nawaz Sharif government has taken office.

"And third, I think there will be a discussion about the very important role that India plays in Asia and the important role in the US rebalance to Asia," the official said.

In addition to his meetings and the India US strategic dialogue, Kerry would deliver a major policy speech. Though on his first trip to India as the secretary of state, Kerry has had long association with India.

Kerry visited India more than 20 years ago, leading the first US Congressional trade delegation. He led the effort in the Senate to secure US congressional approval for the US-India nuclear deal, the official said.

Kerry himself mentioned about this in his video message. "Personally, I've seen that friendship come a long way in the last 20 years. When I first visited India nearly two

decades ago, I led the first US Congressional trade delegation as an historic step at the moment that the first financial reforms were taking place, interestingly then under the

Finance Minister (Manmohan) Singh. And I've had the pleasure of traveling to your beautiful country on a number of occasions since that visit. I've been there during times of both great joy and also sadness," Kerry said.

"Both of our countries have learned too well the pain of terrorism. After the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, I met with Prime Minister Singh, and that's a meeting that I'll never forget. And when President Obama recognised the prime minister as a guest of honor and talked about the depth and personal nature of our nations' friendship at his first state dinner, I was also privileged to be there," he said.

"I remember fondly the intense work that we did together to get the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement approved in Congress, and I was proud to lead that effort in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," he said.

"It was a very important vote, one that symbolised the broad bipartisan support for our relationship, the transformation of our ties, and our confidence in each other as strategic partners. Now, as we look forward to its full implementation as soon as possible, we're going to have to continue to cooperate together," he said in his video message. 

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Lalit K Jha in Washington
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