Narayan Lakshman

Washington: The forthcoming Strategic Dialogue between India and the United States will be comprehensive and cover the “entire gamut of bilateral relations,” according to Rahul Chhabra, Indian Minister for Press, Information and Culture here.

The Strategic Dialogue, to be held in Washington during June 1-4, will be led by S.M. Krishna, Minister for External Affairs, on the Indian side, and by Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, for the U.S. It will cover such a wide range of policy areas as including energy, agriculture, science and technology, health, education, defence and counter-terrorism.

Going by the statements of both the Indian embassy here and the State Department, the “Singh-Obama 21 {+s} {+t} Century Knowledge Initiative” will receive a major shot in the arm during this dialogue. The Initiative aims to increase university linkages and junior faculty development exchanges between U.S. and Indian universities.

In that context Mr. Chhabra noted that Human Resource Minister Kapil Sibal's visit to the U.S. last year “generated interest in leading universities in U.S. to consider collaborations or a presence in India.” He added that the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill was tabled in Parliament earlier this month and following that Mr. Sibal is scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with his counterpart U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on June 2.

Another key set of meetings will be led by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who will hold a bilateral meeting on June 2 with her counterpart William Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. She will also meet with Eric Hirschhorn, Under Secretary for Industry and Security at the Department of Commerce – likely to be a closely followed discussion as Ms. Rao and Mr. Hirschhorn co-chair the U.S.-India High Technology Cooperation Group.

Asked about the planned meetings on Saturday, Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, said: “We have made very good progress over the last year on both the global and bilateral fronts in our relations with India.”

In terms of the global issues, Mr. Blake noted that Dr. Singh had played “a very important role in Copenhagen in the climate change negotiations,” and also praised his participation the recent Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Obama. In particular Mr. Blake noted that Dr. Singh had then announced that India would build a centre for nuclear security.

Food security would also be discussed at the Strategic Dialogue, Mr. Blake suggested, as would health – through establishing a global disease detection centre aimed at finding cures for major global pandemic diseases.

In terms of issues specific to the U.S.-India relationship, Mr. Blake noted that there were 18 separate dialogues under way on the bilateral front, one of the most important being the nuclear issue, “following up on the civil nuclear agreement in the Bush Administration.” He said that as a follow-up to that, the U.S. was “following very closely the nuclear liability legislation that the Indian Government has introduced into the Indian parliament.” He hoped that that would be consistent with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation, he added.

Finally Mr. Blake highlighted the “unprecedented counterterrorism cooperation that is taking place between our two governments,” underscoring the increasingly common threats such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and similar groups. He said, “We have had very close cooperation, and we look forward to doing even more in that area.”

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