In an unmistakable indication of backroom discussions shifting up a gear before President Barack Obama’s India visit in November, the State Department announced today that United States National Security Advisor General Jim Jones met with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao to “continue preparations for the President’s upcoming visit”.

According to an official statement General Jones and Ms. Rao reviewed the progress being made in a number of areas, including agriculture, education, economic cooperation, and security. Additionally, General Jones and Ms. Rao were said to have discussed other developments in South Asia, noting their “mutual desire for stability”.

Ms. Rao is in Washington principally to keep the discussions moving forward and it has been announced that next week, Indian Industry Minister Anand Sharma will be in town to similarly add momentum to bilateral trade policy discussions.

The visiting Indian officials were said to be holding meetings with senior U.S. counterparts, including Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns, Under Secretary for Defence Michèle Flournoy, Under Secretary of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security Eric Hirschhorn, and Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman.

While it would appear that the U.S. has in general had a positive attitude towards the bilateral relationship, the Indian side has been pressing for further progress with issues such as the H1-B visa fee hike, India’s interest in securing U.S. support for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and its hope that export control restrictions would be eased.

Nuclear liability bill, counter-terrorism on agenda

According to sources, counter-terrorism, and in particular, its cross-border aspects including infiltration, have been an important component of the ongoing talks between the two countries.

So has the civil nuclear liability bill, even if progress on the ground in this area was expected to be gradual. In this sphere, the main argument that India has sought to convey to the U.S. was that the liability bill passed in the Indian Parliament did not contain provisions that were additional to what already existed in common law and did not contradict the Convention on Supplementary Compensation.

The hope was also that all nuclear suppliers participating in India’s nuclear industry would operate on a level playing field, according to sources, and that India was open to continuing a dialogue with the supplier companies.

The U.S.-India dialogue will also cover some new policy subjects of mutual interest such as the governance of the global commons, including maritime security and antipiracy, and ocean domain awareness, it was learned.

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