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US, India ties to deepen

WASHINGTON, July 16 – The US bids to deepen a strategic partnership with India — viewed as a global player on trade, arms control and climate change — when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Friday.

Clinton, resuming foreign travel for the first time since she broke her elbow a month ago, was due to leave late Thursday for the financial hub of Mumbai before visiting the capital New Delhi on Monday and then flying to Thailand.

"We believe India has a tremendous opportunity and a growing responsibility, which they acknowledge, to play not just a regional role, but a global one as well," Clinton told foreign policy experts in Washington.

"We’re going to do everything we can to broaden and deepen our engagement," Clinton said ahead of talks in Delhi with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

President Barack Obama’s administration is building on ties which were transformed when predecessor George W. Bush’s team signed a pact opening up sales of civilian nuclear technology to India for the first time in three decades.

The two countries had uneasy relations during the Cold War and later came to loggerheads over India’s decision in 1998 to test an atom bomb and gatecrash the elite club of nuclear weapons states.

Clinton, aides said, hopes that the two sides will announce during her visit the two locations India has chosen for US firms to build multi-billion dollar nuclear power plants.

Clinton and her aides said she also hoped to work more closely on education, defense, agriculture, science and technology as well as economic and women’s issues with the new Indian government formed after elections in May.

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They also hoped the world’s two largest democracies will make progress in bridging differences on global issues like climate change, non-proliferation and multilateral trade talks.

"We believe there is scope for progress on all three issues," said Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for south Asian affairs who will travel with Clinton.

Critics of the nuclear pact signed by the Bush administration argued the deal undermined global efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons, because India has refused to sign the international non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

But Blake said both she and Obama are "committed" to the deal, which he argues paves the way for dialogue on non-proliferation.

The chief US diplomat also said that she and Todd Stern, her special envoy for climate change who will travel with her, "hope that we can, through dialogue, come up with some win-win approaches" on combating climate change.

The administration is looking toward a December summit in the Danish capital Copenhagen intended to secure a new international agreement on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

But India — like fellow developing heavyweight China — has refused to commit to emission cuts in the new treaty until developed nations, particularly the United States, present sufficient targets of their own.

Evan Feigenbaum, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for south Asia under the Bush administration, told AFP that India and the United States could defuse tensions by agreeing to work closely on renewable energy sources.

The two sides also have sharp differences on the Doha Round of global trade liberalization talks.

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India last month called on the US, China and other powers to return to talks immediately to frame a world trade accord instead of waiting for recovery from the global economic crisis.

Feigenbaum said both sides could strike a bilateral investment treaty as a way to defuse tension on multilateral trade talks.

The issue of terrorism is likely to come up as India worries about Islamist militant threats from neighboring Pakistan following a deadly siege on Mumbai in November last year.

After her talks Monday in Delhi, Clinton will travel to Bangkok before she leads the US delegation to talks of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the southern Thai isle of Phuket, from July 22 to 23.

Scot Marciel, the ambassador for ASEAN affairs, expected leading topics to include the international showdown with North Korea over its nuclear and missile tests and political repression in Myanmar.

In Phuket, Clinton will also hold an unprecedented three-way meeting with her counterparts from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to discuss health and environmental issues concerning the Mekong river, Marciel told reporters.

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