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Rice Hails India's Growing Influence, but Defers on Its Bid For UN Security Council

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday India's growing influence needs to be taken into account in United Nations reforms. But in comments after talks with Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, she stopped short of endorsing U.N. Security Council membership for India.

India has been openly campaigning for a seat on the Security Council in cooperation with three other would-be members, Germany, Brazil and Japan. And in his talks in Washington, Foreign Minister Singh continued the effort at persuasion, but received no commitment from the Bush administration.

At a joint news conference with Secretary Rice, following a day of talks including a White House meeting with President Bush, Mr. Singh said India is qualified for a seat on an expanded U.N. Security Council by any criteria.

"Our credentials are impeccable. We are a founding member of the United Nations, by virtue of having been a member of the League of Nations even though we were a British colony," he said. "Our peacekeeping record in the U.N., our role in decolonization, our role in the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, our efforts at disarmament, nuclear and conventional. Take any aspect of U.N. life. India has played a leading role."

For her part, Ms. Rice said India's growing influence in international affairs will, in her words, "have to be accommodated" when reform of the Security Council and other U.N. structures are considered, though her comments stopped short of the outright support the United States has given to Japan's bid.

Under questioning, Ms. Rice defended the approach to Japan and said her newly named special envoy for U.N. reform, Shirin Tahir-Kheli, will be visiting India for further talks on the issue.

"Yes, we have supported Japan for some very particular reasons, having for instance to do with the fact that Japan really is the second-largest contributor to the United Nations in terms of support for the United Nations," she said. "It is really not very far behind the United States in providing that support. And that needs to be recognized. But we are going to have now - we have said even to the Japanese, that that too has to be in context of broader U.N. reform."

Ms. Rice said Ambassador Tahir-Kheli's talks in India and elsewhere will be aimed at building a consensus on U.N. reform, in the hope the process can go forward without acrimony.

The secretary's talks with Mr. Singh were a follow-up to meetings they had in New Delhi last month, when the two governments agreed to expand defense and energy cooperation.

Shortly after the Rice visit to India, the Bush administration announced a decision, over which Mr. Singh expressed deep disappointment, to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

But White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said the issue did not come up in the meeting between President Bush and Mr. Singh, who told reporters later U.S.-Indian relations had never been better.

The talks here produced, among other things a decision to set up a top-level working group on energy issues, including growing international competition for oil supplies.

Mr. Singh said his cabinet colleague, Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee, will visit Washington "very soon" to advance the dialogue on defense matters.

When it announced the Pakistan jet sale last month, the Bush administration said it would expand defense ties with India, and that U.S. aerospace firms were being authorized to open talks with India on possible sales of multi-role combat aircraft, including F-18 jets that might be co-produced with India.