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Strategic dialogue, Afghanistan on Clinton's agenda in India

Source: PTI
May 03, 2012 12:49 IST
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Besides preparing for the next month's Indo-United State strategic dialogue in Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will discuss a range of bilateral issues and Afghanistan with Indian leadership when she arrives in New Delhi next week.

While the specifics of Clinton's trip to India -- with stops in Kolkata and New Delhi -- are still being given a final shape, a senior Obama administration official involved in the planning said the secretary wanted to visit India ahead of the next month's crucial meeting, as she had not visited the country after the last year's strategic dialogue in New Delhi.

"The secretary had not been to India since her trip there after last year's strategic dialogue and I think, she wanted to do so," the official told PTI ahead of the Clinton's visit to Bangladesh and India from May 5 to 8.

After her visit to Kolkata, Clinton would travel to New Delhi for her meetings with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, and possibly with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"In Delhi, it would be a good opportunity to review the progress in our relations since her visit in June 2011 and again to look ahead to the strategic dialogue that we would be hosting in June in Washington," the official said.

The US State Department would have more to announce about the specifics in the days to come, he noted. "In terms of our bilateral relations, I would say, we continue to make progress. We are breaking new ground in areas like clean energy and health, security and science and technology. Our trade continues to expand very rapidly and is expected to exceed $ 100 billion this year," he said, adding the government-to-government dialogue has never been stronger.

Observing that India and the United States are cooperating together in Afghanistan, the official said at this really important moment countries around the world are getting prepared for the transition in Afghanistan.

"We are looking ahead to this very important NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) summit in Chicago and the equally important effort to support the growth of the Afghan economy and of course we appreciate so much all the various efforts that India has undertaken to support Afghanistan," the official said.

Clinton, the senior administration official said, is trying focus on the idea of New Silk Road that she first articulated in Chennai last year. The idea is to try to better integrate South and Central Asia, which would have beneficial impact Afghanistan to help build a private sector based economy there, to move that economy from aid based economy to a trade based economy, the official said.

India, in all this, has a very important role to play because of the size of its economy. India has an important effort underway to help Afghanistan and has an equally important effort underway to help improve trade with Pakistan.

"Obviously that by itself would benefit both countries, to the extent that they can help open up the trade routes from central Asia to Afghanistan and India, that would have an enormously positive impact on the whole region," he said.

The official, however, downplayed news reports that Clinton's India trip immediately after her China talks is intended at sending some kind of message to Beijing. "I would not read too much into that," the official said.

"She just sees that this is a terrific opportunity to visit India before the strategic dialogue," the official noted.

The official also ruled out this as a farewell trip to India given that she has announced that she would not continue in her current position next year. "I don't think this is being billed as the farewell trip. You have to ask her that when she gets there," he said.

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