US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to fly to New Delhi Tuesday for a one-day visit to India in the hope of boosting bilateral relationship between the two "strategic partners."
Rice is scheduled to hold delegation-level talks with Indian External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh. She would also call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, leader of Opposition LK Advani and the ruling Congress Party Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Besides discussing bilateral issues, the two countries are also expected to focus on the progress in India-Pakistan peace process, political crisis in Nepal and other developments in India's neighborhood. The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the developments in West Asia and UN reforms can also form part of the discussions between the two sides.
Incidentally, her upcoming tour of South Asia and East Asia from March 14-21 clearly shows that the Bush administration is keen to consolidate its transformed relationship with India, an Indian diplomat said.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is approaching Rice's visit as an important top-level contact between the two governments.
According to diplomatic sources, the MEA is confident that India could do business with Rice for various reasons. First, she is better disposed towards India than her predecessor General Colin Powell who was known as a friend of General Pervez Musharraf. Second, during her tenure as national security adviser, she had taken a number of decisions for forging closer ties between Washington and New Delhi. The NSSP was one of these and Rice is the progenitor of Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP).
There are two important elements in the Indo-US NSSP -- cooperation in nuclear issues and space. This is perhaps for the first time in the history of Indo-US relations when Washington has embarked upon certain program with India without bothering about its balancing game with Pakistan and not seeing India through the prism of Pakistan.
However, one sensitive issue might also come up when Rice meets the Indian leaders, and that is the proposed Iran-Indian gas pipeline deal. Before she leaves for the region, Washington has officially conveyed to New Delhi that the Bush administration continued to have serious concerns on Teheran and could not foresee how events there will shape up.
Indian officials said that Rice will focus on the growing confidence building taking place between Pakistan and India during her scheduled trip to the region this month. She was expected to brief India on US policy towards Pakistan and assure New Delhi that American support to President Musharraf's government and economic and military aid are not meant to dilute in any way the US' close ties with India, the officials said.
Rice is also expected to do some groundwork for proposed visit of President George W. Bush to India. India is expected to renew its invitation to Bush as he had already indicated that a visit to New Delhi would be one of his priorities during his second term in office.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had extended an invitation to Bush to visit India when the two leaders met in New York in September last year on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.
According to the US State Department, Rice will highlight the "transformed relationship with India" among other things during her weeklong visit to South Asia and Southeast Asia next week.
"During this time she will visit India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Japan, Korea (the Republic of Korea) and China. In South Asia, the secretary will highlight positive momentum in the region, including our transformed relationship with India, our continuing commitment to Afghanistan's reconstruction and our long-term engagement with Pakistan," the State Department said in a formal announcement before Rice embarks on her Asian visit.
Therefore, even though nothing spectacular is to emerge from Rice's visit to India, it would certainly give a fillip to the Indo-US strategic partnership, as an Indian Foreign Ministry official said.
(Xinhua News Agency March 15, 2005)