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Indo-US ties on ‘much better trajectory’ now: Shankar

The India-US relationship has deepened and expanded across a very broad spectrum -- political,strategic and economic,she said.

Written by Agencies | Washington |
July 30, 2011 4:08:17 pm

Indo-US ties have deepened across “a very broad spectrum” involving political,strategic and economic spheres and cooperation in counter-terrorism and defence sector,feels India’s top diplomat here Meera Shankar at the end of her nearly two-and-a-half year tenure.

“Certainly the relationship has consolidated. And it is on a much better trajectory. But there is need for both countries to continue to engage in how we can build on the gains that we have made,” Shankar siad.

The India-US relationship has deepened and expanded across a very broad spectrum — political,strategic and economic,she said.

“Initially,the relationship began to grow in the economic field in the early 90s after the liberalisation in India because there were new economic opportunities which had not existed before. And then we saw that with the visit of (then) President (Bill) Clinton there was a greater political interest in India,” she said.

This was taken further by former President George W Bush,particularly in his second term when the nuclear cooperation initiative was launched and that became “in a sense a vehicle for transforming the relationship,” said Shankar,who will complete her tenure tomorrow and will be succeeded by Nirupama Rao.

Under the Obama administration,the two countries have completed various negotiations,including on reprocessing of spent fuel,she said when asked about the progress made on the landmark treaty between the two countries.

Shankar also noted that India’s National Investigation Agency was given access to David Headley,who has confessed to his involvement in the Mumbai attacks,for questioning for almost a week,that revealed the full dimension of the conspiracy with regard to the 26/11 strikes.

“More recently we have seen the trial of Tahawwur Rana,where this information is part of the court record and in public domain as well. Overall,I will say that this will be a priority area of cooperation between the two countries,” Shankar said.

In the field of defence cooperation,the two countries have a regular defence dialogue,training exercises,joint exercises and exchange of personnel.

The new dimension is the defence trade,because still about three-four years ago,India hardly had any defence trade relation with the US,Shankar said.

But as India has changed its own policies to look at making its procurements through international competitive bidding,”we have seen that American companies have also begun to take an interest and from the Indian side some of their equipment suitable to our needs,” she said.

“So we have either bought or placed order for equipment worth USD 8 billion in the last three and half years. The most recent being C-17. And as I look ahead,I think,opportunities and partnerships (are) looking beyond defence trade to joint research and development to joint production to joint marketing.

“These are opportunities that lie ahead,and I am sure as we gain confidence in this relationship,we will be able to deepen the partnership to include areas like the ones that I have mentioned,” Shankar said.

“A new area where we are looking to see where we can strengthen our trade cooperation is maritime security cooperation. That is one of the themes we discussed during the recent strategic dialogue that we had when Secretary Clinton visited India. Cyber security is the new area where we have launched dialogue,” said the outgoing Indian Ambassador.

“We have also broadened the strategic partnership,so if you look at the field of strategic political consultations issues,we now have dialogues between the Indian foreign office and the State Department,” Shankar said.

Earlier the two countries held high-level consultations between the Ministers,but last year they began an East Asia Dialogue for the first time between them.

“We have held three rounds since then and now the fourth round of consultation is becoming due. So this is something which both sides have valued and have found increasingly useful to their own understanding of the situation.

“This year,we had consultations with regard to the UN,including peacekeeping,we had consultations in June on Central Asia — a Central Asia dialogue and in July we had West Asia Dialogue,” she said.

The two countries,during the India visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,have also agreed to expand dialogue to other areas such as Latin America and Caribbean.

“In Africa,we are now working on concrete trilateral projects in three countries — Liberia,Malawi and Kenya. One in West Africa,one in sub-Saharan Africa and one in East Africa,” Shankar said.

“We are also working on some joint projects in areas of agriculture and women’s empowerment and capacity building in Afghanistan. We have agreed to intensify consultations on Afghanistan including on the reconciliation process. The US is increasingly recognising the need as it moves ahead in Afghanistan to engage the regional countries including India,” she said.

Shankar said the two countries now have consultations at the Joint Secretary level and Assistant Secretary level on “virtually the entire world.”

“Similarly when you see the whole area of security cooperation,then you will see that there is one area where we have made very significant progress,starting from the visit of Home Minister P Chidambaram here in 2009,then we signed a counter-terrorism initiative last year in 2010,which focused on strengthening cooperation in areas of information and intelligence exchange,capacity building and sharing of experiences,” she said.

Shankar said the two sides this year saw the launch of the homeland security dialogue under which they have set up a number of working groups in areas which are of interest to them.

“For instance,one of the groups deals with illicit financial flows including terrorist financing,counterfeit currency,money laundering and so on and that would be of great interest from our side,how do we strengthen our capacity here,then we look also at the security of movement of goods and persons,how do we ensure that our port security strengthen or entry into the airport is strengthened etc while at same time allowing the free flow of goods and services,” she said.

“Two important working groups from our point of view (would) be the ones on capacity building and the other one on technology upgradation,which means for a country like India how do we strengthen our technical capabilities to ensure environment of greater security,particularly monitoring and surveillance and enhancing our capacity to prevent incidents.

“These are very important groups from our point of view. And this area has emerged as a very important area of cooperation,” Shankar said.

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