Clinton Says US Encouraged by India-Pakistan Talks
By Matthew Lee and Ravi Nessman for The Associated Press
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that the United States was “encouraged” by the ongoing talks between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan and promised to give full support to Indian efforts to protect itself from terror.
Clinton’s visit to India came less than a week after a triple bombing killed 20 people in India’s financial capital of Mumbai, the worst terror strike in the country since 10 Pakistan-based gunmen rampaged through the city in 2008.
Her meetings with top Indian officials Tuesday focused on fighting terror, the U.S. withdrawal plans from Afghanistan and ways to broaden economic and security ties between the United States and India.
She also called for a swift resolution to their dispute over investments in nuclear energy, calling on India to ratify by the end of the year the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage and to adapt its liability laws to conform with the treaty.
The U.S. views India’s new nuclear liability law as too stringent on nuclear plant suppliers, making it difficult for private U.S. companies to compete against state-owned companies in India’s multibillion dollar nuclear reactor market.
Clinton’s trip here is part of a new round of U.S.-India strategic dialogue established last year to deepen ties between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.
S.M. Krishna, India’s foreign minister, expressed concerns that the planned U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan that began this month could lead to a resurgence in Islamic extremism.
“It is in the larger interests of the region that it is necessary for the United States to work very closely with (Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai and the government of Afghanistan and thereby create conditions where terrorists do not take any more advantage in Afghanistan,” Krishna said after 2 1/2 hours of talks with Clinton.
Clinton said she had outlined the drawdown strategy and stressed that the United States will not support Afghan reconciliation with insurgents unless it is inclusive and protects the rights of minority groups, religions and women.
Clinton also assured India of U.S. support in the fight against terror.
“We are allies in the fight against violent extremist networks. And homeland security is a high priority and a source of increasing partnership,” Clinton said.
While the U.S. and India have already signed agreements to cooperate in counterterrorism efforts, “the events in Mumbai have driven home how important it is that we get results,” she said.
Though India has not blamed Pakistan for last week’s attack, it has accused its neighbor of harboring violent extremist groups responsible for other attacks in India and of not doing enough to crack down on those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai siege.
For its part, U.S. officials fear Pakistan is not fully committed to combatting radical plots, such as the failed 2010 Times Square bombing in New York.
“We have made it clear to the Pakistani government that confronting violent extremists of all sorts is in its interest,” Clinton said.
India recently resumed peace talks with Pakistan that broke off following the 2008 Mumbai siege, and the two countries’ foreign ministers are expected to meet next week.
The U.S. is eager for the fragile talks to pick up steam, in part to allow Pakistan to focus its forces on the chaotic Afghan border.
“We are encouraged by the dialogue between India and Pakistan,” Clinton said, calling talks “the most promising approach” to build more confidence between them.
During the meeting Tuesday, Clinton and Krishna agreed to strengthen their countries’ ties in energy, security, education, the economy, science and promoting stability across the region. The two countries also signed an agreement promoting closer cooperation in cybersecurity.
Once frosty relations between India and the United States have warmed considerably in recent years as Washington has looked to India as stable ally in the turbulent South Asia region and its growing economy as a valuable market for U.S. goods.
President Barack Obama hosted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his first state dinner and visited India for three days last year, praising it as a new regional power. Clinton was to meet with Singh later Tuesday.
Growing business ties were among the top issues in the talks.
Western officials have looked to India’s rising economy and its 1.2 billion people as a coveted market to help stimulate growth in their own troubled economies.
“Each of our countries can do more to reduce barriers, open our markets, and find new opportunities for economic partnership,” Clinton said. “Taking these steps is in our mutual interest. We can improve millions of lives and increase both of our nations’ economic competitiveness.”
She praised India’s fight against piracy, and pushed for greater sales of U.S. arms to India — the world’s largest arms importer —as a way of deepening security cooperation between the two nations.
U.S. officials were annoyed earlier this year when Indian officials chose two European companies as finalists for an $11 billion order for 126 fighter jets. However, last month India signed an agreement to buy 10 Boeing C-17 cargo and troop-carrying aircraft for more than $4 billion.
From New Delhi, Clinton on Wednesday will move on to the southeastern port of Chennai, where she plans to deliver a speech on the importance of U.S.-Indian relations, the benefits of enhanced bilateral commercial ties and India’s role in South Asia and the greater Asia-Pacific region.
Clinton is in India on the third leg of a 12-day, around-the-world diplomatic tour that has already taken her to Turkey and Greece. After India, she will visit Indonesia, Hong Kong and southern mainland China before returning home July 25.