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US Secretary of State Clinton to push security, trade ties with India

By NNN-Agencies,

New Delhi : US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will look to ramp up regional security cooperation and trade ties in talks with Indian leaders Tuesday, held in the shadow of triple bomb blasts in Mumbai.

India’s concerns over the US troop drawdown in Afghanistan and its renewed peace talks with arch-rival Pakistan will also loom when Clinton addresses a US-India “strategic dialogue” in New Delhi.

She will hold one-on-one talks with India’s National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, before flying Wednesday to the southern city of Chennai — a focus for growing US trade and investment.

Her visit follows the blasts in Mumbai last week that killed 19 people and injured more than 130.

No-one has claimed responsibility, but relations between India and Pakistan have been undermined in the past by militant strikes that New Delhi blames on Pakistan-based groups.

“We believe there’s been some good progress between India and Pakistan in the last few months”, a senior US administration official said, adding Clinton was keen to help sustain that momentum.

“It’s also about reinforcing the steps they have already taken,” the official told reporters prior to Clinton’s arrival in the Indian capital late Monday.

India suspended its peace dialogue with Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and talks between the nuclear-armed neighbours only resumed earlier this year.

Washington’s own relations with Pakistan — a crucial counter-terrorism ally — have deteriorated since US commandos shot and killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 2 in a Pakistani garrison town, sowing distrust on both sides.

Earlier this month Washington suspended almost a third of the $2.7 billion in security assistance it provides each year to Islamabad.

Clinton will have “extensive conversations” in New Delhi on security cooperation, the US official said, and push Washington’s vision for a political and economic solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and “a future in the region that is free of Al-Qaeda”.

India is wary of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, fearing that Islamist elements within Pakistan could take advantage of a power vacuum in the war-torn country.

Clinton’s two-day trip follows President Barack Obama’s visit in November — a courtship of India that reflects the rapid growth in the country’s economy and a shift in power to emerging nations as a result of the global financial crisis.

While economic ties have improved significantly in recent years, they are still seen as falling short of their potential.