Cautions that “expectations have to be toned down” on his meeting with Sharif

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President Barack Obama appeared to finally be converging on their countries’ views on Syria and Iran when Dr. Singh said that he had “complimented” Mr. Obama for “giving diplomacy a chance,” especially considering that six million Indians lived in West Asia.

Dr. Singh spoke softly during a joint press briefing following delegation-level talks and along with the U.S. President touched upon a range of areas of cooperation including defence, clean energy, the civilian nuclear agreement, counter-terrorism and the Af-Pak region.

While Dr. Singh said that he looked forward to his meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York over the weekend on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, he cautioned that “expectations have to be toned down” as long as terror stalked the subcontinent and its “epicentre” remained focused in Pakistan.

Mr. Obama echoed Dr. Singh’s sentiments on Pakistan, thanking him for India’s “consistent interest in improving cooperation” across the border and seeing a reduction of tensions on the subcontinent.

Civilian nuclear deal

The U.S. President also praised the continuous improvement in bilateral ties that encompassed not only “enormous progress” with the landmark civilian nuclear agreement but also the fact that the “Miss America” contest was recently won by an Indian-American, Nina Davuluri.

With regard to the former subject Mr. Obama expressed satisfaction with the fact that in the last few days “an agreement on the first commercial agreement” between a U.S. company and India had been achieved. The signing of a “pre-early-works” agreement between U.S. nuclear suppliers and the Indian operator, NPCIL, has been on the cards during this official visit.

The strategic issues that may have dominated the bilateral discussion, however, appeared to have been on both Syria and Iran, regarding which diplomatic efforts that have involved nations such as Russia have led to improvement in ties in recent days and weeks.

On Syria although Mr. Obama reiterated the role that the threat of force by America had played in making it possible to get Damascus to give up its chemical weapons stockpile, he added, “But I’ve always expressed a preference for resolving this diplomatically.”

Both leaders underscored the significant advances in bilateral trade and investment, with Mr. Obama remarking that trade had risen by 50 per cent “just over the last several years,” and Dr. Singh added that the figure had touched $100 billion despite the slowdown in the global economy.

The two leaders did not take questions from the press after their bilateral meeting and Dr. Singh immediately departed for New York, where he will attend the UNGA.