May 18, 2001
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Chokila holds talks with Grossman

Aziz Haniffa
India Abroad Correspondent in Washington

Foreign Secretary Chokila Iyer and her diplomatic counterpart at the US state department, Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, held wide-ranging discussions on Thursday as part of the foreign office consultations and Asian security dialogue.

The talks were part of the agreed institutional dialogue architecture set up between the United States and India last year following the visit to New Delhi in March of former president Bill Clinton and the reciprocal visit to Washington in September by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher said this "institutional dialogue" was now "being vigorously pursued by the new administration".

"The dialogue includes summits, ministerials, regular meetings like this one [between Iyer and Grossman] at the senior official level," he noted and recalled the recent meetings with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh in April and last week's meetings in New Delhi of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

According to Boucher, the two delegations discussed "a wide variety of regional and bilateral issues, including regional security, next steps to implement the institutional dialogue, and a preview of the June 2001 working group meetings on counter-terrorism and peacekeeping."

Iyer, meeting journalists at the Indian embassy in Washington after her tete-a-tete with Grossman, said, "We reviewed the whole range of bilateral relations and discussed the issues of mutual interests at regional, international and multilateral level."

She said both sides "expressed great satisfaction at the current state of Indo-US relations and expressed their commitment to further strengthening bilateral co-operation in all areas."

Iyer said New Delhi was most appreciative of the "importance which President Bush's administration has attached to India in its foreign policy" and noted that in this context, the highly successful visit of Singh to Washington and Armitage to Delhi were tangible manifestations of this blossoming relationship.

She said, "We discussed the exchange of other high-level visits which were agreed upon, in principle", and noted that "dates of these visits will be finalized through mutual consultations."

Iyer explained that "the focus of the foreign office consultations was to give action-oriented guidelines to the various joint working groups and other consultative mechanisms between India and the United States".

She said Grossman would come to New Delhi for the next round, expected to be within the next three months.

Iyer acknowledged that the issue of sanctions "did come up. The Bush administration is taking a review of all the sanctions, so we await further development on that."

Meanwhile, she indicated that it was highly unlikely that Bush would visit India during his planned visit to South Korea and East Asia in the next few months, but pointed out that "President Bush has kindly accepted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's invitation to visit India and we do hope that visit will take place soon."

"[But] I cannot comment on whether it will relate to that [his planned visit to East Asia]," she added.

Iyer said no dates had been fixed for a possible visit to India by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld either.

When pressed if she had renewed India's demand that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba be designated a foreign terrorist organization, Iyer said she had not brought up the matter. "But we do regard the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba as one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations," she said, adding that India would like it if the US followed the United Kingdom's lead and declared it so.

Iyer also said that even though there was some discussion about Vajpayee's recent trip to Iran, Washington had not expressed any concern over the burgeoning ties between New Delhi and Teheran -- which the US considers a 'rogue' country and has designated a sponsor of international terrorism.

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