India is an ‘absolutely critical country’ for US

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington: US President Barack Obama has despatched a personal letter to New Delhi making it clear that India is “an absolutely critical country” with which Washington is keen to work, a top official has said.

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US Undersecretary of State William Burns, who is in New Delhi to make the first high level contact with the Manmohan Singh government since its return to power, would be delivering the “presidential letter”, the envoy, Richard Holbrooke, told reporters Wednesday without providing details on the contents.

“It’s a private letter,” said Holbrooke. “But the important thing is that the number three person in the Department of State has gone to India to reaffirm immediately after the election,”said the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Burns is now beginning the dialogue with the newly elected government in an atmosphere of great positive feelings,” he said. “And without getting into Indian politics, all I can say is that all of us – Secretary (of State) Hillary Clinton, Bill Burns, myself, President Obama – everyone looks forward to working with the newly elected Indian Government.”

“He is carrying the messages that I would have carried if I had had time to go to New Delhi on this trip, but I couldn’t do it,” said the envoy, who visited Pakistan last week to assess relief efforts to help the estimated two million people who have fled a Pakistani offensive against the Taliban.

“All I can tell you is that this Administration believes that what happens in Afghanistan and Pakistan is of vital interest to our national security. And …that India is a country that we must keep in the closest consultations with.”

“And we consider India an absolutely critical country in the region,” Holbrooke said. “They’re not part of the problem, but they are vitally affected, and we want to work closely with them,” he added explaining what some observers have described as a hole in Obama administration’s foreign policy focused on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The Indians were very frank with us. They wanted to keep in touch with us during the election period, but they had to wait through the election, just like we do. It’s the world’s two greatest democracies.”

Holbrooke, who visited New Delhi on his first two trips to the region, said next week he would be meeting the new Indian ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, whom he already met twice.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])