Condoleezza Rice may set the tone for Bush’s trip to India
* Dates for Bush’s visit will come up for discussion during Rice’s visit
* Rice will hold meetings with Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh and opposition leader LK Advani
NEW DELHI: Top US diplomat Condoleezza Rice is expected to pave the way for a trip by President George W Bush to emerging economic power India when she arrives on Tuesday for a whirlwind day of meetings.
Rice, on her first visit to Asia since becoming secretary of state, will hold meetings on Wednesday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Foreign Minister Natwar Singh and senior opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani.
Bush wants to come to India to build on a growing business relationship between the countries, discuss regional issues such as the peace thaw between India and Pakistan and the takeover by King Gyanendra in Nepal, and cajole New Delhi to support efforts on rebuilding Iraq, diplomats said.
“Bush has already said he’d like to visit India early in his second term,” a New Delhi-based US diplomat said. “That’s not the official reason for the trip by Rice, but it will likely come up, as well as regional cooperation and deeper business ties.”
It was widely seen as a diplomatic triumph in India when Bush accepted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s invitation to visit when they met last September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“There is a broad commitment from Bush to visit India but the dates still have to be finalised. It would certainly come up for discussion during Rice’s visit,” said Raja Mohan, an adviser to India’s National Security Council.
US companies are flocking to India to open offshore service centres, sell consumer goods to its growing middle class and push sales of high-tech and military equipment. Two-way trade between the countries rose 17 percent to 21 billion dollars last year. Singh, who came to power as head of a coalition government in May 2004, urged US companies to invest in India in a speech at the New York Stock Exchange in September.
The prime minister sees India’s foreign policy as being “driven by economic interests” with the United States and China, which have emerged as the country’s leading trade partners.
Bill Clinton visited India in May 2002 near the end of his presidency, the first president to come to the country since Jimmy Carter in 1978. He repaired relations strained by the country’s May 1998 nuclear tests, including by easing sanctions on purchases of high-tech equipment and breaking into a market formerly served by India’s Cold War ally Russia.
The Bush administration pushed that process forward by completely lifting sanctions, including military sales, in return for India’s support on the US-led war on terrorism.
Former secretary of state Colin Powell also made frequent visits to South Asia to defuse a tense military standoff between India and Pakistan in 2002 that almost led to war.
In January 2003 the rivals began a new round of peace talks led by former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, which has been carried forward by the Singh-led government including resumption of a bus service in the disputed state of Kashmir next month.
India and the United States meanwhile cooperated on relief efforts after the December 26 tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, using their navies to rush relief supplies to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. afp