Counter-terror coop to top Indo-US strategic talks

New Delhi: Taking a major step to further deepen ties, India and the US will hold their first Strategic Dialogue on June three during which they are expected to discuss situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan and ways to take forward initiatives in "top priority" counter-terrorism area.

The Strategic Dialogue, a broad-based format covering 18 sectors, will be led by External Affairs Minister S M Krishna from Indian side and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the US side.

It will also lay the ground for the visit of President Barack Obama to India later this year.

"The Strategic Dialogue will enhance global strategic partnership between India and the US by serving as a very important mechanism to review, enhance and coordinate our broad-based cooperation," External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash told reporters here about the meeting taking place in Washington.

The Indian delegation will also include HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao.

From the US side, Clinton will be joined by National Security Adviser James Jones, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and some other officials.

The issues that are expected to come up include Afghanistan-Pakistan situation, India's role in Afghanistan and counter-terrorism cooperation between India and the US.

Describing counter-terrorism as an "urgent priority" matter, sources said it poses challenge to both India and the US and their cooperation has intensified after Mumbai attacks.

The two sides will be looking at ways to further step up cooperation in this area, which will involve sharing of intelligence besides the US help to upgrade India's internal security mechanisms like forensic training and coastal security.

Significantly, the Strategic Dialogue will take place when a team of Indian investigators will be in the US to question David Coleman, Pakistan-origin American, who had played a key role in the Mumbai attacks.

There are reports that Obama may "drop by" during the Strategic Dialogue, which would be only the second time that the President has visited the State Department after last January when Richard Holbrooke was named as the Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the context of Afghanistan, India's role in development and reconstruction of the country could come up for discussion at the Strategic Dialogue.

The US, like all other countries, has been appreciative of India's assistance in reconstruction of Afghanistan.

India and the US will also discuss ways to take forward their initiatives in civil nuclear energy cooperation, trade, investment, agriculture, education, healthcare and science and technology.

The basis for the dialogue will be the joint statement issued after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's talks with Obama in Washington in November that outlines the roadmap for future of the relationship.

The five pillars outlined during that meeting were strategic cooperation; energy and climate change; education and development; economic cooperation, trade and investment and science and technology and healthcare.

"It (the Strategic Dialogue) will focus on wide range of bilateral, global and regional issues of shared interest and common concern. It would give direction to programmes currently under implementation," Prakash said.

Among other things, the two sides will consider ways to operationalise the Obama-Singh Knowledge Initiative outlined during the meeting between Singh and Obama in Washington in November last year.

The initiative is aimed at increasing exchanges between universities and other educational institutions.

Follow-up action on civil nuclear cooperation agreement is also expected to be discussed.

They will also discuss cooperation within multilateral fora and exchange views on how international organisations can better address 21st century challenges, Prakash said, in an apparent reference to reform of the UN.

"The dialogue will serve to reaffirm bilateral commitment to further deepen our strategic and cooperative partnership," the spokesman said.