Manmohan, Obama begin talks: Headley, AfPak on agenda

By Manish Chand and Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington, April 12 (IANS) India\’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Sunday began talks with US President Barack Obama that are expected to focus on nuclear terrorism, India\’s request for access to David Coleman Headley, a key plotter of the Mumbai attacks, and Pakistan-origin terrorism.

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The talks are being held in Blair House, the presidential guest house across the street from White House, on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit that aims at securing the world from loose bomb-making materials.

The eight-member Indian delegation included National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, India’s ambassador to the US Meera Shankar and senior officials of the external affairs ministry.

The US delegation included US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor James Jones, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robert Blake and senior officials.

The meeting with Manmohan Singh is the first of a series of a bilateral meetings that Obama is having ahead of the summit, including one with the leader of Pakistan, another de facto nuclear weapon power outside the fold of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at 5 p.m. (2.30 a.m. IST).

This was their first bilateral meeting since Obama hosted maiden state dinner of his administration for Manmohan Singh in November last year.

With the US hedging on extraditing Headley, Manmohan Singh is expected to press Obama for full access to Headley, an American-Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba operative who has confessed to his role in plotting the 26/11 carnage.

India believes the direct interrogation of Headley will help it to unravel the fuller conspiracy behind the Mumbai attacks. The US has not made up its mind on the issue and has maintained that there are legal procedures to be followed.

Manmohan Singh began his four-day visit to the US Sunday, his sixth visit to the country during his prime ministerial tenure.

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 also expected to convey India’s core concerns on Pakistan-origin terrorism and the proposed plan for reintegration and reconciliation with the Taliban that could potentially affect regional stability.

Amid Pakistan’s concerted propaganda offensive aimed at scaling down India’s presence in Afghanistan, Manmohan Singh is expected to get across the message that New Delhi’s stakes in Kabul’s stability can’t be held hostage to any outside pressure.

Obama, on his part, 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.