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U.S., India Establish ‘Strategic Dialogue' to Further Strengthen Their Relations

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By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NEW DELHI, July 20 -- The United States and India on Monday established a high-level forum designed to further strengthen a relationship that has dramatically improved in recent years. The two governments also announced relatively modest agreements that could foster potential sales of sophisticated U.S. arms and civil nuclear reactors.

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The "strategic dialogue," unveiled on the final day of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's three-day tour of India, will be one of only about a half-dozen such relationships the United States has with other countries.

The annual sessions will be co-chaired by Clinton and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and will bring together cabinet secretaries of both countries for formal discussions.

Clinton, at a news conference with Krishna, stressed that the talks are designed to inspire broad partnerships beyond the government level, bringing Americans into closer contact with one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

"We do not, however, intend for this to be a dialogue between ministers or even between governments, but between our nations and our peoples, our scientists and business leaders, our civil society activists and academics, charitable foundations, farmers, educators, doctors, entrepreneurs," Clinton told reporters.

Underscoring that point, Clinton stretched the bounds of traditional diplomacy during her visit. She met with business leaders in the commercial capital of Mumbai, talked to poor female weavers, toured an environmentally friendly "green" building, visited a farm to learn about new crop techniques and discussed Indian education issues at a university forum.

On Monday, she delved into more-official contacts, meeting with Krishna; Manmohan Singh, the prime minister; Sonia Gandhi, the head of the ruling Congress party; and L.K. Advani, the leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Clinton announced that she had conveyed an invitation to Singh from President Obama to visit Washington on Nov. 24 for what would be the first state visit of the new administration. Singh accepted, U.S. officials said.

The other agreements announced Monday were of less import, essentially marking incremental steps toward realizing potential military and nuclear sales.

India agreed to accept congressionally mandated monitoring of the use of sensitive military equipment, which will allow U.S. companies to compete for the sale of 126 fighter jets worth about $10 billion. India also identified two sites for potential U.S.-made nuclear reactors, also worth $10 billion, though the Indian government must still pass a controversial law limiting liability for U.S. companies before they can compete.

Clinton and Krishna also signed a technology agreement that will permit the use of U.S. parts on Indian satellite launch vehicles and established a $30 million fund for joint science and technology projects.

The United States and India had chilly relations during the Cold War, but a thaw began during the presidency of Clinton's husband, Bill Clinton. President George W. Bush built on that foundation by inking a landmark civil nuclear agreement with India, and now the Obama administration has made it clear it wants to further deepen ties.

One U.S. official involved in this week's talks said that until recently the two countries "managed problems." It was such an unsatisfactory relationship that very few senior U.S. officials wanted to meet with their Indian counterparts. But Bush's nuclear deal, which allows India to buy civil nuclear equipment even though it did not sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, cleared away a long-standing sore point between the two nations.

Meanwhile, Singh's party won a commanding victory in May, allowing it to shed left-leaning coalition partners suspicious of Washington. The U.S. official said that now the heads of various agencies are fighting over who can join the U.S.-India dialogue. "There's a sense that we can accomplish something," he said.

Still, stark differences between the two countries on such issues as a global agreement to limit greenhouse gases were apparent during Clinton's trip.

Clinton is an Indiaphile, clearly fascinated by the country, its people and its food. Speaking to about 700 students at Delhi University on Monday, she said it would be a mistake to allow stereotypes portrayed in popular culture to influence relations between the two countries.

"People watching a Bollywood movie in some other part of Asia think everyone in India is beautiful and they have dramatic lives and have happy endings," Clinton said to laugher. "And if you were to watch American TV and our movies, you'd think that we don't wear clothes and we spend a lot of time fighting with each other."


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