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US, India Meet for Strategic Dialogue

Officials from India are in Washington this week to participate in a Strategic Dialogue with their U.S. counterparts. India's Minister for External Affairs, S.M. Krishna, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are leading the comprehensive discussions. Topics of the talks are expected to include energy, agriculture, science and technology, health, education, defense and counter-terrorism.

The four-days of meetings are the first high-level Dialogue of its kind between the United States and India. Robert Blake, the Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, says several discussions are already underway.

"We have 18 separate dialogues underway between the United States and India to really try to capture the full scope of the opportunities ahead of us," he said.

President Barack Obama hosted Indian Prime Minister Singh at the White House last year for the first state visit of the new Administration. President Obama is planning to visit India later this year. Assistant Secretary Blake says the discussions this week are intended to boost future cooperation.

"The purpose of this dialogue is really to think strategically and, again, to get the key people who work on these issues together to think ahead to the President's visit and to think strategically about what we can do. It is not so much to have a review of all the things that we've done. We know what we've done. It's really to think ahead," said Blake. "And when we have all of these senior-level officials together in one place, we have to take maximum advantage of their time and, again, use it productively. It is not to supplant the 18 different dialogues that we have, headed by all these different cabinet ministers on both sides."

Blake says the Strategic Discussion will maximize that time with a schedule that covers almost every important issue between the United States and India.

"We will have, really, two sessions. We will have a plenary session that will cover a lot of the - all the bilateral issues that we're working on - counterterrorism, export controls and high technology, economics and finance, infrastructure, education, energy, climate change," he said.

Blake says the top officials - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna - will delve into the most sensitive topics of India's neighbors.

"The Secretary and External Affairs Minister Krishna will have a discussion on both the global issues that I mentioned, but again come back to some of the important regional issues, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan," he added.

As a major nuclear state, Assistant Secretary Blake says India could be in position to open a direct opportunity for U.S. nuclear workers.

"We are now following very closely the nuclear liability legislation that the Indian government has introduced into the Indian parliament," he said. "If passed, it would provide a very important legal protection and open the way for billions of dollars in American reactor exports and thousands of jobs."

And he says the U.S. education sector may also be on the verge of tapping into the huge Indian market.

"A very important draft bill has been introduced into the Indian parliament that would open up for the first time India allowing foreign universities to offer degrees and set up campuses in India," Blake said. "India, as you know, has an overwhelmingly service economy, but also, increasingly, a knowledge-based economy. And they feel that it is very important to be able to provide higher education to the young population of India, half of whom who are under the age of 26."

The Strategic Dialogue between the United States and India concludes Friday.