M A I N   N E W S

US vows stronger ties with India
Calls India global power
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

THE US President, Mr George W. Bush, on Thursday pledged to take US-India relations to a “much higher level.” The commitment was made during the course of a meeting with External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh at the Oval Office which officials later described as “exceedingly warm and friendly.”

The delegation accompanying Mr Singh on his two-day foray into Washington was visibly buoyed following the half-hour White House meeting that exceeded its allotted time.

Speaking to reporters, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said Mr Bush was “extremely excited and pleased about the state of US-India relations and said he would use the next four years of his second term (as President) to further strengthen these relations, to take them to a much higher level.”

The Indian official said Mr Bush described India as a “global power” with which the US wanted to work “very closely together for the common good, for world peace, for mutual economic benefits.”

US officials said Mr Bush’s gesture of inviting Mr Singh to the Oval Office was aimed at reiterating his Administration’s commitment to “making India a global power” and reassuring India that a recent decision to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan was in no way intended as a snub.

The officials said the Bush Administration was “going to great lengths” to show that Washington had de-hyphenated its relationship with India and Pakistan and sought a broad strategic cooperation with New Delhi that went beyond the next steps in strategic partnership.

When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited New Delhi last month, she told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that it was now America’s policy to “help India become a major world power in the 21st century.”

A State Department official later emphasised that Washington “understands fully the implications, including the military implications, of that statement.”

Mr Bush and Mr Singh discussed the challenges in the energy sector and the President said the two countries needed to work together, especially in the area of civil nuclear energy.

In his remarks, Mr Singh appreciated Mr Bush’s “extremely focused” efforts at developing relations with India. The minister noted Mr Bush had made “a very personal commitment to taking these relations forward and as a result India-US relations are probably the best that we’ve had in a very long time and we are looking forward to a much closer relationship between the two countries in the second term,” Mr Saran said.

The two also spoke about the affinity that existed between India and the US and their “commitment to democratic values and how this provided an excellent foundation for taking our relation forward.”

Mr Bush said he was looking forward to visiting India “within the year” and told Mr Singh a very warm welcome awaited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Prime Minister is scheduled to visit Washington in July while Mr Bush is expected to visit India towards the end of the year.

Mr Bush was accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Mr Singh’s delegation included Mr Saran, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, and Mr Ronen Sen, India’s Ambassador in Washington.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Singh met Mr Hadley. That meeting was followed by discussions with Congressman Gary L. Ackerman, Democratic co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, and Senator Richard G. Lugar, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr Singh met Miss Rice at the State Department for a working luncheon on Thursday afternoon. Mr Saran said the meeting with Mr Bush had “set the stage for a very productive session” with the Secretary of State.

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