PM lands in US; nuke terrorism, Headley top agenda

PM Manmohan Singh has landed in Washington to attend the 42-nation Nuclear Security Summit that will focus on nuclear security.

Washington: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday began a four-day visit to the US to attend the 42-nation Nuclear Security Summit that will focus on nuclear security and his first bilateral meeting with President Barack Obama since they met in November last year.

Manmohan Singh was warmly welcomed at Andrews Air Force base by White House chief of protocol Capricia Marshall. India`s Ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, along with senior officials, was also present to welcome the prime minister.

Besides the first-ever Nuclear Security Summit, a pet project of Obama designed to secure all loose nuclear material within four years, Manmohan Singh will have a packed schedule of bilateral meetings with the leaders of the US, France and Canada.

There is no sign, however, of any bilateral meeting between Manmohan Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani who has also been invited for the nuclear summit.

In their first bilateral meeting since Obama hosted maiden state dinner of his administration for Manmohan Singh in November last year, the two leaders on Sunday are set to discuss a cluster of issues that are of pressing concern to them.

With the US hedging on extraditing David Coleman Headley, a key plotter of 26/11 attacks, to India, Manmohan Singh is expected to raise the issue that has revived misgivings about the US` intentions among a section of the political establishment back home.

India has been pitching for full access to Headley, an American-Pakistani Lashkar-e-Toiba operative who has confessed to his role in plotting the 26/11 carnage, but the US has cited intricate legal procedures, saying it has yet to make a decision on it.

The Headley issue will be discussed in greater detail when National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon meets his American counterpart Gen (Retd) James Jones.

"We will keep pushing...This will be one of the issues...We`ll use every occasion to seek access (to Headley)," sources said.

With an agreement sealed on a pact on reprocessing spent fuel, the two leaders will also appraise remaining steps required to implement the landmark India-US nuclear deal.

Manmohan Singh is likely to assure Obama that his government is determined to push the civil nuclear liability law through the Indian Parliament that has attracted pointed hostility from India`s opposition parties.

Under the 123 bilateral agreement, enacting a civil nuclear liability legislation is a key obligation India is required to fulfill before nuclear companies of the two countries can resume nuclear business.

As their meeting takes place a day ahead of the nuclear summit, the two leaders are set to discuss issues relating to evolving global nuclear architecture and nuclear terrorism that is expected to be the focus of the summit.

In his intervention at the summit, Manmohan Singh is expected to highlight the persistent dangers of illicit nuclear proliferation in India`s neighborhood and the role of Pakistan`s AQ Khan network, dubbed as illicit nuclear Wal-Mart, in creating a fragile nuclear security situation in the region.

There are, however, potential areas of dissonance when the two leaders pick up threads on issues relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan when they met in November last year.

Obama is likely to enlist India`s support for a renewed drive to impose fresh sanctions against Iran. But given the domestic sensitivity of the issue, Manmohan Singh is expected to reiterate India`s position on dialogue and diplomacy as the best option to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse.