India, US to iron out irritants before Obama visit

India, US to iron out irritants before Obama visit

Rao's visit to the US will be followed by that of Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Defence Minister A.K. Antony later this month.

Rao will leave for Washington Thursday. She will join External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna when he travels to New York Sep 20 to participate in the UN General Assembly, officials familiar with the Obama visit told IANS.

In Washington, Rao is expected to meet Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns and other senior American officials.

The foreign secretary's visit comes at a time when the two sides are looking for a big idea or big ideas to frame the maiden visit of Obama to India, likely Nov 9-11, said sources involved in preparing the visit.

The two sides urgently need to iron out a slew of irritants that have cropped up lest they sour what promises to be a historic visit by the first black president of the US to India.

The row over the hike in the hike in H1-B and L1 visa fee and the Ohio state ban on outsourcing of IT projects are just some of the issues that, if not managed, can cast a shadow over the Obama visit.

The Americans, too, have their gripes and expect their concerns to be addressed. The tightening of the liability clause under domestic political pressure has antagonised American nuclear companies wishing to do business with India and may endanger the landmark 2008 India-US nuclear deal.

The US-India Business Council, representing 300 top US companies doing business with India, wants India to adopt a nuclear liability regime "channelling absolute and exclusive liability to nuclear power plant operators and establishing a sole remedy for compensation of claims".

The outsourcing-related issues will figure in greater detail when Anand Sharma meets US States Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk in Washington at a meeting of the joint Trade Policy Forum (TPF) in Washington Sep 21.

Rao's discussions in Washington will focus on firming up key deliverables during the Obama visit that should send a powerful message that the India-US global strategic partnership is set to keep its momentum under the new regime in Washington, said an official.

From India's point of view, the easing of high-tech exports through removal of Indian companies from the US Entity List and a greater strategic understanding on the Afghanistan-Pakistan issues could be two important highlights of the visit, sources said.

India is also hoping for a clear-cut announcement by Obama pledging the US' support for India's candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

India, which will be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council by the time Obama comes here, believes that such a declaration of unambiguous support from the US could not only boost its Security Council chances but will also accelerate the process of the UN Security Council reforms.

Rao and Burns will continue their discussions when the latter comes to India next month.
Antony's visit, likely September-end, will put the focus on  giving a fresh impetus to the defence relationship between India and the US that continues to suffer from the absence of a proper framework and trust deficit problems.

The US is open to accommodating India's concerns but wants India to decide on signing the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) and the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) soon as that will ease high-tech defence exports to India.

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