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Clinton Heading to India to Enhance Strategic Partnership

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves Washington for India Thursday on a mission aimed at advancing an emerging U.S.-Indian strategic partnership. The trip will also take her to Thailand for meetings with Southeast Asian foreign ministers on issues including North Korea's nuclear program. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The overseas trip is the first by Secretary of State since she fractured her elbow in a fall last month, and it includes an ambitious agenda in India, where she aims to solidify a strategic partnership begun with the 2005 U.S.-India nuclear cooperation accord.

Under that accord, given final approval by the U.S. Congress last year, India agreed to open non-military aspects of its nuclear program to international inspections, clearing the way for U.S. sales of nuclear technology and fuel to India. It also opened the prospect of a major sale to India of U.S.-built fighter planes.

At a news briefing, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake said the sides hope to conclude two related agreements during the Clinton visit, which will span four days.

One would guarantee that U.S. military technology sent to India is not shared with third countries, and the other would identify two sites in India where U.S. firms would build nuclear power plants - potentially $10 billion dollars worth of business.

In break from past practice, Blake said Clinton will not visit Pakistan on this trip but would do so on another trip in the fall, reportedly in October.

He said under questioning the travel plan should not be seen as any kind of political signal, other than Clinton's intention, on this trip, to highlight the U.S.-India relationship. "She's not really trying to send any signal at all. This is a trip where we're trying to focus on India and really highlight the new strategic partnership, and again all the people-to-people ties. But that doesn't mean that we attach any less importance to Pakistan and Afghanistan. There's already been extensive high-level engagement between the United States and the leaders of both of those countries," he said.

Clinton will first visit Mumbai, India's business capital, for various events before going to New Delhi Sunday to meet key officials including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi.

She holds similar political talks later in the week with Thai officials in Bangkok before flying to the resort island of Phuket to join in an annual dialogue of Pacific-rim country foreign ministers with those of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. envoy for ASEAN affairs Scott Marciel said those talks would include discussion of the political situation in ASEAN member country Burma, and recent developments concerning North Korea.

All participating countries in the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, with the exception of North Korea, are expected to be in Phuket.

But Marceil said it remained to be decided if there would be a five-way meeting on the subject, or just bilateral contacts on implementing the new U.N. sanctions resolution against Pyongyang approved after its latest nuclear test in late May. "Our focus really has been really on winning international enforcement of (resolution) 1874 as well as trying to get the diplomatic process underway. I would just say that all of the five parties are very concerned about recent developments and about what's going on with North Korea's behavior. There's an ongoing discussion about the best way to move the diplomatic process forward and that hasn't been fully resolved yet," he said.

Senior State Department officials later said North Korea had been invited by Thailand to send an envoy to Phuket but had not responded.

The same officials reported major progress in U.N. consultations on North Korean firms and individuals to be sanctioned under Resolution 1874, saying Pyongyang's recent behavior has left it almost completely isolated in the world community.

They said the emerging sanctions are aimed not at causing added hardship for the North Korean people but blocking illicit transactions supporting Pyongyang's weapons programs and prompting it back to nuclear talks.