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Rice visit marks new phase in ties

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: March 16, 2005 17:27 IST
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United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was sworn in as Secretary of State in January, arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Her current visit to South and East Asia will cover India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Japan, Korea and China.

Her official engagements in New Delhi on Wednesday will start with a meeting with Foreign Minister K Natwar Singh at Hyderabad House. The meeting will be followed by a joint press conference.

Before calling on Leader of the Opposition L K Advani at his Prithviraj Road home at noon, Dr Rice will visit Humanyun's Tomb in Nizamuddin East to acquaint herself with India's composite culture.

She will call on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at 1245 IST.

Dr Rice's visit to India so early in her new assignment is a mark of her desire to engage India in a substantive discourse on a range of issues, a US embassy spokesman in New Delhi.

She met the prime minister briefly in New York last September on the sidelines of the United Nations summit.

In Indian diplomatic circles, she is remembered most for her article 'Promoting the national interest' in Foreign Affairs magazine during the Bush election campaign of 2000. 'There is a strong tendency conceptually to connect India with Pakistan and to think only of Kashmir or the nuclear competition between the two States. But India is an element in China's calculation, and it should be in America's too. India is not a great power yet, but it has the potential to emerge as one,' Dr Rice wrote.

She is known to nurse concerns about the implications of China as the dominating power in south and east Asia.

At the same time, she attaches equal importance to her country's relations with Pakistan -- an ally in the war against terrorism, a facilitator of US interests in Afghanistan and an accomplice of the US against Iran.

After she took over as secretary of state, she said she would follow an activist foreign policy and that, apart from pursuing vigorously America's war against terrorism, she would try to mend the country's relations with the European Union and play a more proactive role in conflict areas.

Her visit to India follows an eventful visit to Europe and the Middle East.

Dr Rice's visit to India is also meant to underline the importance attached by the US to keeping the dialogue between Delhi and Islamabad going; to reiterate the importance attached by Bush to the US relations with India and to plan the second phase of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership.

In Pakistan, she is likely to reiterate the role of Pakistan as the frontline ally of the US in the war against terrorism and in restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Dr Rice could express US concerns over India and Pakistan going ahead with plans for a gas pipeline from Iran at a time when the Bush administration has not lifted sanctions imposed against Iran.

It is understood that America may express its concern over Myanmar-Bangladesh-India pipeline too because, as in case of Iran, the US has imposes sanctions against the military government in Yangon too.

Indian officials said the country is aware of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act which restricts any investment in the gas and oil sector of Iran by American companies, who are likely to be major backers of the proposed gas pipeline. "But India has no option but to keep exploring ways to get gas and oil in view of the enormous demand."

The recent developments in Nepal will also figure in Dr Rice's agenda when she talks to the prime minister and his foreign minister.

Dr Rice is likely to hear some strong views from the Indian side on the contradictions in American policy on arms sales in the region.

While, India is opposed the proposed sale of American F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan, Islamabad is against the speculated sale of Patriot missiles to India.

Dr Rice will leave for Islamabad on Wednesday at 1515 IST.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi