India to have 'pre-eminent' role in South Asia: US

"The first strategic dialogue between India and the United States next month is going to be a very important event in our bilateral relations," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, said.

This would mark the first time the two sides would be holding a strategic dialogue at the level of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, Blake said in response to a question.

"We understand that the External Affairs Minister Krishna would be bringing a high-level delegation with him, we look forward to not only a comprehensive review of the progress we have made in ... our cooperation, but also to reviewing some of the very important regional issues that are on our bilateral agenda," he said.

"And we would also look forward to the President's (Barack Obama's) visit to India later this fall. So this is a very welcome opportunity and would be another strong affirmation, strong friendship and strong partnership between the United States and India," Blake said.

Blake, who was in China last week for the Sino-US strategic dialogue on South Asia, said both the United States and China are sensitive to Indian concerns in the region. "India will continue to have a preeminent role in the South Asian region, and it is in all of our interest to work very closely with our friends in India to achieve our common objectives," he said.

Noting that the Chinese have a growing role in South Asia and around the world, Blake said his principal message to them was that the United States would like to coordinate more and better with Beijing, since they have growing assistance programme and investment in South Asia.

"In many cases, we have similar interest in many parts of South Asia. So it is in our interest therefore to coordinate with them on assistance so that we do not duplicate our efforts in important places like Afghanistan," he said.

Observing that there is a need to work with the European Union, China and a lot of countries that have interest in various parts of South Asia, Blake said: "But, I think, India will always have the pre-eminent role.

"We understand that, the Chinese understand that India can be a very important force for good and for stability in this part of the region. So it is important for all of us to work with India."

Blake also said the Nuclear Liability Bill tabled in the Indian Parliament yesterday is certainly an important part in continuing the implementation of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.

"We welcome the commitment of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Government to tabling the legislation and as I have said before the timing and management of that bill is something that we would certainly leave to the judgement of the Prime Minister and his team," he said and refrained from making any comment on the opposition to it in India.

"They are in the best position to judge how to manage that and when to move forward. And we trust their judgement," Blake said.

The US official said the cooperation in the counter-terrorism field post-Mumbai attacks is one of the strongest part of Indo-US cooperation.

Referring to last year's visit of Home Minister P Chidambaram to the US, Blake termed it as a very positive visit. "We have been implementing the various parts of the undertakings that we had during that visit."

"We remain in very close touch and very close coordination on many of the terrorist threats that India faces and we work in closest possible fashion to share information to prevent terrorists from carrying out attacks inside not only India but also against Americans too," Blake said.

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