Kerry arrives in New Delhi for U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue

June 23, 2013

Secretary of State John F. Kerry arrived here Sunday for a two-day visit designed to solidify his commitment to what President Obama has called one of the “defining partnerships” of the 21st century, and to keep the growth of trade and foreign policy cooperation on an upward trajectory.

The trip to India is Kerry’s first as secretary, and he is heading a high-level delegation that includes the new energy secretary, Ernest Moniz; Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, head of the Pacific Command; and senior homeland security, science and international development officials.

The occasion is the fourth U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue — although trade, economic and climate issues are likely to take precedence. Despite smooth relations between the two countries, economic tensions lurk beneath the surface. U.S. business leaders, backed by sympathetic lawmakers, have expressed increasing concern over intellectual property rights and what they see as Indian protectionism.

As a senator five years ago, Kerry headed the successful floor debate on behalf of the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement. Since then, the U.S. returns on the deal have been less than encouraging. Westinghouse is poised to begin selling reactors to India but objects to India’s liability law in the event of a nuclear accident. Meanwhile, a recent Indian Supreme Court decision denying extended patent protection for second-generation drugs has riled U.S. and international pharmaceutical manufacturers.

India is expected to become the world’s third-largest economy over the next 10 years, and the United States is eager to solidify workable trade and investment relations. The Obama administration also wants to satisfy concerns in India that the country’s high-tech workers would suffer as a result of immigration bills being discussed in Congress.

Bilateral trade has grown substantially in recent years, to more than $100 billion, with U.S. investment in India reaching $25 billion. Moniz plans to discuss the possible U.S. export of shale gas to satisfy India’s growing energy needs, an arrangement that would require a waiver of U.S. prohibitions against shale-gas shipments to countries with which the United States has no free-trade agreement.

In a keynote speech here Sunday night, Kerry recalled that he was part of the Senate’s first trade delegation here nearly 20 years ago, shortly after India’s finance minister at the time, Manmohan Singh, set economic reforms in motion. Singh is now India’s prime minister, and Kerry hopes to use that long-standing relationship to press for increased Indian cooperation on climate change and clean-energy issues.

“I know India is well aware of the grave threat this global crisis poses,” Kerry said. Expressing condolences for ongoing floods in northern India, Kerry tied the disaster to global climate change, saying that “in many ways, in many places, Mother Nature is telling us to heed the warnings.”

In the speech, Kerry also addressed India’s concerns over the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has long been a stage for regional rivalries between India and Pakistan. “I want you to be confident we have committed to a lasting relationship with the Afghan people that extends well beyond December 2014,” when U.S. combat troops are to withdraw, Kerry said.

“We are very realistic about the difficulties of making progress” on a negotiated Afghan peace, Kerry said in a reference to the ongoing controversy over U.S. and Afghan government peace talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

U.S.-Taliban talks that were supposed to begin last week were postponed when Afghan President Hamid Karzai objected to a Taliban sign declaring its new office space in Doha the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Once the sign was removed, the United States offered to reschedule the meeting for Sunday, but U.S. officials said late in the day that the Taliban had not responded.

State Department official James F. Dobbins, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who arrived late last week to head the U.S. delegation to the negotiations, was due to leave Monday for Kabul. Officials said that he was ready to return if the talks were rescheduled but that the window of opportunity would eventually close.

In a statement Sunday, a Taliban spokesman said the issue of the office name had been agreed in advance with Qatar, an assertion the United States has disputed.

Tim Craig in Kabul contributed to this report.

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