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US, India Review Bilateral Ties - 2004-01-20


President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell held meetings Tuesday with visiting Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, reviewing U.S.-Indian bilateral ties and India's moves to ease tensions with Pakistan.

The talks here were reflective of the rapidly-improving bilateral relationship, underscored last week by an unprecedented accord for U.S.-Indian cooperation in non-military nuclear and space technology.

Mr. Sinha, on his first visit to Washington in 18 months, was given high-profile treatment by the administration, meeting first at the White House with President Bush and later at the State Department with Mr. Powell.

At a joint news conference with his Indian counterpart, Mr. Powell hailed the thaw in India-Pakistan relations reflected in Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to Islamabad earlier this month and restoration of transport links between the two South Asian powers.

Under questioning, Mr. Powell also reaffirmed U.S. support for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his commitment to a moderate political course for the country in the face of extremist opposition that included two assassination attempts last month. "It shows that there are still terrorists in his country that do not like what he is doing. But as we saw at the SAARC meeting in Islamabad, he is stepping up to the challenge of improving relations with India. And as we also saw in the speech that he gave to parliament earlier this week, that he's prepared to speak out for what he knows is right for Pakistan. So we support him and we'll continue to support him. And we hope and are confident that he and his security people will be able to round up these terrorists who don't want to see a better future for the Pakistani people," he said.

Mr. Powell was referring to President Musharraf's address to parliament last Saturday in which, despite heckling from deputies, he pledged to work against what he said was the "curse of extremism" and to press ahead with the agreement to hold peace talks with India.

Both Mr. Powell and Foreign Minister Sinha hailed the technology cooperation accord announced by President Bush January 12.

Under its terms, the United States agreed to help India with its civilian nuclear and space efforts in return for reciprocal steps by India to produce stricter controls on exports of weapons and sensitive technology.

Mr. Sinha said he expects the two sides to begin discussing implementation of the accord in the very near future, while Mr. Powell said he's confident it will be acted on "in an aggressive way and promptly."

U.S.-Indian cooperation in high-tech areas had been hindered in past years by proliferation concerns, with some Indian defense firms facing U.S. sanctions for trading with Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

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