PM hails US ties, will keep talking to Pakistan

By Minu Jain, IANS,

On Board Air India One: One week before President Barack Obama arrives in India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Saturday that India-US relations have entered a new phase.

Support TwoCircles

Speaking on a range of topics at the end of a three-nation Asian tour, Manmohan Singh also said that India had no option but to engage with Pakistan.

On his way home from Vietnam, the last leg of a journey that also took him to Japan and Malaysia, the prime minister said both New Delhi and Beijing wanted a “practical solution” to their dragging border dispute that triggered a war in 1962. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, whom he met in Hanoi Friday, will visit India soon, the prime minister said.

Manmohan Singh, who met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Hanoi for about 45 minutes during a packed day in which he attended the India-Asean and the East Asia summits as well as held three bilateral meetings, said there was a common desire to bring about a qualitative change in the relationship.

“India-US relations have entered a new phase. There is cordiality, there is understanding. It is our common desire to bring about qualitative changes in our relationship,” the prime minister told reporters.

“We have economic and strategic interactions. We are strategic partners.”

In the run up to the Nov 6-9 Obama visit to Mumbai and New Delhi, the two sides are discussing the way to carry the civil nuclear relationship forward.

According to National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon: “One of the things we are working on is to carry the civil nuclear relationship forward. The DAE (Department of Atomic Energy) is talking to US firms… These are practical discussions.”

Indicating that the two countries were on a positive track to enable high technology trade, he said: “The US has a double system of export control which it has built over the years.”

Stressing that India has been accepted in the global civil nuclear community, Menon said India had adhered to NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) guidelines and had a very good non proliferation record.

The US also has a list of entities which US companies cannot supply to. “There have been discussions on how to amend the system… I think we have made considerable progress.”

Both sides were agreed that the Obama visit would be a “historic one, which would enable us to add content to our strategic partnership”. This covered the gamut, be it exploring political areas, economy, trade and commerce and security.

“Both sides expressed satisfaction at the state of preparations,” Menon said.

He added that while the main topic of discussion when Clinton called on the prime minister was the upcoming Obama visit beginning Nov 6, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the situation in the region were also talked about.

“She welcomed the work we are doing in Afghanistan,” Menon said, adding the US asked India to continue the task of reconstruction.

According to the NSA, US arms to Pakistan not related to counter terrorism was certainly an issue.

“The US knows our views and they know what our concerns are,” Menon said.

In his comments on Pakistan, the prime minister was categorical: “It is our policy to engage with Pakistan. That doesn’t mean we have to give up or surrender.”

“I have often said that we can choose friends, but not neighbours. We are obliged to engage with Pakistan.”

Manmohan Singh also pushed for peace and tranquility pending a settlement on the border dispute with China.

Stating that he discussed “totality of issues” with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao when he met him in Hanoi Friday, he said both countries wanted a “practical solution” to their border dispute.

He said the countries had affirmed the commitment to bring about “a practical solution” to the border row that triggered a war in 1962. Both countries claim each other’s territory.

“In the meantime, peace and tranquility should be maintained (on the border),” he said.

In response to a question on whether China was showing signs of softening towards India, Manmohan Singh said amid laughs: “Mein naram garam mein nahin padhna chahta (I don’t want to get into these issues).”

“Whatever misunderstandings are there (in the relationship) should be removed.”

He said he invited Wen, “and in the very near future” the Chinese premier would come to India.

Just before Wen and Manmohan Singh met, China insisted publicly that it would continue to give stapled visas to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir — a sign that Beijing disputed New Delhi’s control over the state.