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Indian PM Singh to Address US Congress

India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. The Indian leader is expected to speak about India's desire for stronger relations with the United States on a number of fronts, and its support for the global war on terrorism.

Prime Minister Singh's address comes amid strong support in Congress for the Bush administration objective of expanding bilateral relations with New Delhi, and the role India can play in a range of areas.

In the past, U.S. policymakers and members of Congress have been worried about the chances of war between India and Pakistan.

These concerns have not faded, but Washington is focusing on ways to move the relationship to a new level on defense, space, and economic cooperation, and common values such as strengthening and spreading democracy.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Christina Rocca, gave this broad outline to the House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee in June.

"We are engaging [with India] in a new strategic dialogue on global issues and on defense, and expanded advanced technology cooperation," she said. "We are continuing our dialogue in important ways so that we can jointly address democracy, human rights, trafficking in persons, environment and sustainable development, and science and advance technology."

Republican Congressman Jim Leach, who chairs the subcommittee, says while India and the United States can be natural allies in many areas, there are issues on which they differ.

"We recognize, of course, that both countries have a certain divergence of views on issues ranging from Burma and Iran, to the Sudan as well as aspects of international trade policy and of course, the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]," he said.

Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman says the kind of cooperation marking recent agreements reflects an essential change in how the United States is treating India on a bilateral and global level.

"Our entire strategic frame of reference has changed when it comes to thinking about India," he said. "We no longer see India through the lens of the Cold War and as an ally of the former Soviet Union. Instead, we see India as an important actor on the regional stage and as a nation poised to become a global power."

Praise of India is coupled with continuing concern in Congress about, and criticism of, India's South Asian rival Pakistan over democracy issues and Kashmir.

Lawmakers, such as Congresswoman Diane Watson, want the two South Asian nuclear powers to continue to work to resolve bilateral differences.

"India and Pakistan have been at the edge together for too long, and we need to have [a] policy that is redirected toward those two nations that will enhance some kind of negotiation and agreement between the two nations," she said.

On the eve of Prime Minister Singh's address, the House of Representatives approved a resolution recognizing the continuing improvement of India-U.S. relations, but also progress toward rapprochement with Pakistan.

"India of late has been a model partner in the ongoing rapprochement with its neighbor Pakistan, despite memories of bitter wars and nuclear one-upmanship," said Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee. "Both countries have shown goodwill in an ongoing attempt to settle their differences by peaceful and diplomatic means."

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says the United States and India share a common bond.

"A bond based on our shared Democratic values and our common goals of safeguarding liberty, combating oppression and confronting terrorism," she said.

Lawmakers expressed support for India's permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council, and praised positive contributions by Americans of Indian origin to medicine and technology.

After his address to Congress, Prime Minister Singh will also meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, many of whom are unhappy about the loss of American jobs through outsourcing to India by U.S. companies.