India gets positive vibes to its concerns ahead of Obama visit

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is understood to have articulated New Delhi's concerns at a hectic round of meetings Friday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, White House National Security Advisor James Jones and other senior administration officials.

A statement on Rao's meeting with General Jones said Jones met with Rao "to continue preparations for the President's upcoming visit to India in early November."

"General Jones and Rao reviewed the progress being made in a number of areas, including agriculture, education, economic cooperation, and security.

"Both agreed that the vast range of cooperation between us would set the foundation for a successful presidential visit and further our strategic partnership.

"In addition, General Jones and Rao discussed other developments in the South Asia region, noting our mutual desire for stability," the statement added.

Rao, who is here to prepare the ground for Obama's visit, also met with Under Secretary for Industry and Security at the Commerce Department, Eric L. Hirschhorn, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Ellen Tauscher, and Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, Michele Flournoy.

As India looks at the Obama visit as a very significant milestone in India-US relations, which have become truly transformational in nature in the words of Clinton, Rao was encouraged by the "positive orientation" towards Indian concerns at these meetings, sources said.

While Indian concerns over the discriminatory hike in H1-B and L-1 visa fees would be taken up by the Commerce Minister Anand Sharma when he comes here for a meeting of the India-US Trade Forum Tuesday, sources described the issue of export controls as a work in progress.

The US stand on India's permanent membership of the Security Council too was evolving and hopefully would ultimately veer round to US endorsement going by Clinton's statement that a reform of global institutions of governance should take into account India's emergence as a major power, sources suggested.

On its part, the US raised its concerns over the nuclear liability bill and was told that while India was willing to discuss and address the suppliers' concerns, it was India's view that the legislation was consistent with the international nuclear liability convention.

Rao also had an extensive discussion on India's perspective on Pakistan's role in Afghanistan and how some Pakistan based groups were promoting terror.

On Afghanistan, the US now has a greater appreciation of the Indian perspective and the clear message from Washington was that India should stay involved and step up its work for the development of Afghanistan, sources said.

India also got the impression that the United States was not going to draw down its forces from Afghanistan in a hurry next July as feared by some.

State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley said Clinton, joined by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns and Assistant Secretary Bob Blake, Rao discussed the latest developments in the US-India relationship and preparations for the president's trip to India later this year.

Obama will come on his maiden visit to India in the first week of November, according to diplomatic sources.

"She plays a key role in co-chairing many of our most important bilateral dialogues, including the Strategic Security Dialogue, which addresses our commonly shared non-proliferation, disarmament, and security objectives, as well as the Global Issues Forum, which is dedicated to identifying ways to cooperate on meeting global challenges and embracing global opportunities," Crowley said.

In response to a question, Crowley said US was having negotiations with India over opening more US and Indian consulates in either country.

"We talk about this issue with India on a regular basis. As we broaden our relationship, we are evaluating on our side whether our current posture in India meets the requirements of an expanding relationship," he said.

"And likewise, India is doing the same thing in terms of its network of consulates. In this country, this is an issue that we continue to have negotiations with India."

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