India and the United States concluded their Strategic Dialogue here on Thursday evening, issuing a joint statement that indicated a significant increase in the breadth of collaborative initiatives between the two countries.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna led the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, at which they committed to sustain and deepen their cooperation in areas such as counter-terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, trade and investment, science and technology, infrastructure investment, environmental sustainability, climate change mitigation, energy security, education, agriculture, food security, healthcare and the empowerment of women.

To a question from The Hindu on whether the Strategic Dialogue represented more continuity or change, Ms. Clinton said it represented both. She argued that while there was “continuity that was evidenced by my husband’s efforts to reach out to India, evidenced by President Bush’s continuing efforts, and … the civilian nuclear deal, [we have] now come to a point where we wish to… broaden the base of that relationship”.

She added, “This is an affair of the heart, not just of the head,” noting that the relationship “between our peoples is rooted in common values, shared aspirations”, even if there were different historical experiences and cultural perspectives. She said that was why the relationship stood the test of time despite the vicissitudes that come between any two great countries.

Regional, global developments

In a joint statement following the conclusion of the Dialogue they pledged that they would continue to consult each other closely on regional and global developments, and “remain sensitive to each other’s interests”.

Reflecting recent statements by U.S. officials that they would consider India an important part of any future reform plans for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the joint statement confirmed that “global institutions of governance should reflect contemporary realities”.

Responding to media questions on the subject, Ms. Clinton said, “We don’t have any way forward yet on Security Council reform, but we are obviously very committed to considering India. At this point… there is no consensus in the world and that is the challenge of dealing with multilateral organisations.”

In terms of regional issues, Ms. Clinton and Mr. Krishna reiterated their shared interest and commitment to a “stable, sovereign, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan”, and Ms. Clinton “welcomed India’s vital contribution to reconstruction, capacity building and development efforts in Afghanistan and its offer to enhance efforts in this direction”.

Mr. Krishna, in particular, was emphatic that given the “historical and civilisational affinity that we have with Afghanistan” India would stay the course in that country “to defeat these terrorist [machinations]”.

Eliminate terrorist safe havens

Both leaders concurred on the gravity of recent terror incidents in the U.S. and India and called for swift and credible steps to eliminate terrorist safe havens. They vowed to strengthen global consensus and legal regimes against terrorism, including by working together at the United Nations toward adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.

Noting that India was the country with which the U.S. had the maximum number of joint defence exercises, both leaders also noted the scope for enhancement of defence trade between the two countries to the mutual benefit of both sides. They pledged to continue working together on maritime security, counter-piracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and response.

Ms. Clinton also welcomed India’s announcement of establishing a Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership with focus on advanced nuclear energy systems, nuclear security, radiological safety and applications of radio isotopes and radiation technologies and appreciated India’s intent to welcome participation by international partner countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the work of the Centre.

The leaders further committed to continue working together to achieve an early start of negotiations on a “multilateral, non-discriminatory and internationally and effectively verifiable Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty” at the Conference on Disarmament.

“Fragile” economic recovery

Describing the economic recovery as “fragile”, Mr. Krishna and Ms. Clinton noted that it required sustained international support, including G20 countries which should continue maintaining openness in trade policies and promoting innovation and growth. This would be considered again at the next meeting of the G20 in Canada.

Ms. Clinton also noted, “U.S. and Indian cabinet secretaries and ministers will meet on June 22 in Washington with members of the U.S.-India CEO Forum to hear recommendations on specific steps our two governments can take to expand trade and investment.”

Export controls

On the unresolved question of restrictions by the U.S. on high-tech, dual-use items of trade, the leaders “committed to approach the issue of export controls in the spirit of the strategic partnership between the two countries.”

With a strong focus on sustainable development, the joint statement underscored the goal of establishing a Joint Clean Energy Research Centre and accelerating collaborative efforts to deploy clean energy technologies in both countries.

Other areas of cooperation that saw agreements being put in place include agricultural cooperation and food security, university education partnerships, and establishing a Regional Global Disease Detection Centre in India.

In conclusion, the two sides noted they would hold the next meeting of the Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi in the first half of 2011.