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Obama Administration Seeks New Progress in U.S.-Indian Relations

David McKeeby - Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State

Washington - The Obama administration seeks to build on a landmark nuclear cooperation deal with India to continue a historic transformation in relations between Washington and New Delhi, says Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.

"As India emerges as one of the world's leading economic and political powers, the central question is how the United States and India can work together to address the regional and global challenges that no country alone can solve," Steinberg said March 23 at the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy research organization. "President Obama and Secretary Clinton are committed to expanding these opportunities."

The October 2008 nuclear accord reopened the way for India to import nuclear fuel and technology after a 33-year international freeze imposed in the wake of India's first nuclear weapons test in 1974 and its subsequent refusal to sign on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The 2008 pact, along with a U.S.-supported lifting of a parallel ban imposed by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, advances key strategic, clean energy, environmental and economic goals of the United States, Steinberg said, representing nearly a decade of intensive diplomacy by the Clinton and Bush administrations.

"Now the stage is set to embark on what I term the third stage of our rapprochement," Steinberg said. "As nations, the United States and India both know that the third stage is crucial to boosting us into orbit."

While India remains outside the 189-nation NPT framework, Steinberg called on New Delhi to consider joining in international efforts to help formulate a successor regime to encourage the development of nuclear energy while safeguarding against the spread of nuclear weapons.

"Both the United States and India have a responsibility to help work to craft a strengthened NPT regime that fosters safe, affordable nuclear power, to help the globe's energy and environment needs while assuring against the spread of nuclear weapons," Steinberg said. "President Obama has pledged U.S. leadership in meeting our obligations as the world's most powerful nuclear state, but India has a special role and responsibility as well."

The United States looks forward to continuing the conversation on nuclear nonproliferation in the coming months, Steinberg said, as the new administration fills key posts and once India completes elections of its own in April and May.

Steinberg's remarks came as Obama prepared to join Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the G20 summit in London April 2.

The United States and India can leverage their close trade and cultural ties to spur development and economic growth in the subcontinent, Steinberg said, while taking action to prevent future economic crises by working together to strengthen multilateral financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, and promote reform and greater transparency in global markets.

India and the United States also share an interest in confronting the problem of extremist safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, Steinberg said, as illustrated by a November 2008 terrorist attack on India's commercial and entertainment capital, Mumbai, that claimed nearly 170 lives.

Since the Mumbai attacks, the United States has worked to cool tensions between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors that have fought three wars since 1947.

"There's obviously a complex history between the two countries," Steinberg said. "We certainly encourage India to see that it has a big stake in the efforts that we will be undertaking to work both with Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with this very grave threat to us all."

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