M A I N   N E W S

US refuses to stop F-16 sale to Pak
* India ignores Rice objection on gas pipeline
* PM to visit US in July
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 16
India and the United States broke new grounds today in bilateral cooperation as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Indian leadership that an institutionalised mechanism of an ‘energy dialogue’ would be in place soon, though a dampener came in the form of her refusal to stop sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan.

A concrete outcome of the Rice visit was that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be travelling to the US in the coming months, most probably in July, for preparing a framework of a broad strategic partnership with the US and External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh would be visiting Washington next month.

On India’s claim for the United Nations Security Council permanent membership, Washington’s attitude was much more mellowed down than its hitherto stand of willingness to back Japan only for this claim.

An area of major differences between New Delhi and Washington was Iran. Ms Rice cautioned India against pursuing the pipeline project with Iran but the Indian leadership stood its ground.

It is understood that it is in the context of Iran that Ms Rice proposed setting up yet another institutionalised mechanism between the two countries for cooperation in the energy sector. The “energy dialogue” mechanism would be set up before President George W. Bush travels to India later this year, diplomatic sources said.

Significantly, the Indo-US energy cooperation would include all forms of energy — conventional as well as nuclear. Washington is understood to have agreed to take care of India’s growing energy needs on a quid pro quo basis: that India does not go ahead full steam with Iran pipeline project.

Ms Rice had no good news to give to the Indian leadership about Indian concerns on sale of American weapons and nuclear-capable F-16 aircraft to Islamabad. But she expressed her country’s commitment on defence cooperation and told New Delhi that Washington was keen to emerge as a reliable partner and source for defence hardware and technology.

Ms Rice had two rounds of talks with External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh in the morning, first in the restricted format and then at a luncheon meeting. Later, before her departure for Islamabad, Ms Rice called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. First she had a 20-25 minute meeting with one-to-one meeting with Dr Manmohan Singh and then a restricted meeting where Mr Natwar Singh and others joined in.

On Nepal, the two sides agreed that recent events had been a setback to democracy and opined that democratic freedoms must be restored and reconciliation with political parties must lead to return to multi-party democracy in Nepal.

Mr Natwar Singh said he apprised Ms Rice of recent developments in our Composite Dialogue with Pakistan which is progressing satisfactorily. Then in a lighter vein, he said: “We look forward to welcoming General Musharraf here soon and if I may be allowed to say something, I will also respectfully request him that he ensures that the Pakistan cricket team does not beat our cricket team.”

In the next breath, he added: “There should be no doubt about our commitment to achieving peace with Pakistan but it is critical that Pakistan implements fully its solemn commitment to cease all cross-border terrorism against India.”

The personal chemistry between Ms Rice and Mr Natwar Singh was evident by a little repartee the two shared during the middle of their joint press interaction at Hyderabad House. Ms Rice said: “I am going to make a promise to the Foreign Minister right now and that is that I will even try to understand cricket. That would help.” Mr Natwar Singh quickly added: “I will try and understand baseball.”

On Iran-India pipeline, Ms Rice said she had communicated to the Indian government her concerns about the project... We do need to look at the broader question of how India meets its energy needs over the next decades...We believe that a broad energy dialogue should be launched with India because the needs are there. We have our own energy needs and indeed given the technological sophistication of our economy, of India’s economy, I would hope that we can also explore ways that new technologies can help us over the next decades to meet what are undoubtedly going to be burgeoning energy needs.”

Significantly, on this point Mr Natwar Singh added: “We have traditionally good relations with Iran. We expect Iran will fulfill all its obligations with regard to the NPT. We have no problems of any kind with Iran.”

On UNSC permanent membership, Ms Rice said: “We are at the beginning of discussions about UN reform, including UN Security Council reform... there are many aspects of the UN that need reform including, as we have said, the Secretarial issues, General Assembly issues, Security Council issues and agency issues as well as management reforms... the world is changing obviously. There are countries like India that have emerged in recent years as major factors in the international economy, in international politics, taking on more and more global responsibilities. I was really quite interested in the fact that when we had the Tsunami cooperation which was a kind of ad-hoc arrangement for a while to respond to the immediate needs of the Tsunami, India was able, I am told, to mobilize its ships and go to sea in about 48 hours. That is extraordinary and that shows that India’s potential is very great to help resolve humanitarian and other needs of the world.”

The punch-line in her averment about India’s candidature for UNSC permanent membership was: “... Clearly we also note that there have been great changes in the world and that international institutions are going to have to start to accommodate them in some way.” Mr Natwar Singh said India was a democracy of one billion people, its UN record was impeccable, India had been involved in many peacekeeping operations, had led discussions on decolonisation, had led discussions on the end of apartheid in South Africa.



IAF to get SU-30s on March 21

Nasik, March 16
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) would hand over the first batch of Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter planes to the IAF on March 21.

Chief of air Staff Air Marshal S.P. Tyagi would receive the advanced fighters from Hal Chairman, a HAL press note said here. — PTI

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