Rumsfeld coming on Sunday

NEW DELHI, NOV. 1. The U.S. Defence Secretary, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, is arriving here on Sunday night to initiate a strategic dialogue on long-term defence cooperation with India. He will have a meeting with the Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes, on Monday and will depart that evening.

Mr. Rumsfeld has been among those in the administration bullish on the prospects for a strategic relationship with India. Despite the developments of September 11 and the current preoccupation with the war against the Taliban, he hopes to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to build a new defence partnership with India.

Mr. Rumsfeld's visit is not related to the ongoing U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan or to the question of keeping a lid on Indo-Pak. military tensions from boiling over, diplomatic sources here said. He would, however, respond to any Indian concerns on the new American relations with Pakistan.

Mr. Rumsfeld's trip takes place just days before the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, is scheduled to meet the U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush, in Washington on November 9.

The U.S. decision to lift sanctions, imposed after the May 1998 nuclear tests, has opened the door for substantive defence links between the two nations. The two sides have agreed to revive the Defence Policy Group (DPG), led by senior civilian defence officials. The DPG is expected to meet in the next two weeks.

Mr. Rumsfeld, is the second senior cabinet-level official from the U.S. to visit New Delhi in less than three weeks. The Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell, had come here in the middle of October. Mr. Rumsfeld is arriving here after consultations in Russia, Central Asia, the Gulf and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, an American warship, the USS O'Brien is calling at the Chennai port early next week. The Spruance class destroyer has been participating in Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban.

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