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Experts: Clinton India Visit Very Successful in Style and Substance

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just concluded her first visit to India, where she highlighted areas of agreements on defense and nuclear energy. There were differences on the U.S. push to lift trade restrictions and to control greenhouse gases. Some U.S. experts on South Asia say her main focus was to encourage India to partner with the U.S. and play a more assertive role on the world stage in counter-terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation.

Secretary Clinton set the tone of her visit at the very outset. "President Obama and I believe that we are entering a new and even more promising era of relations with India," Clinton said. "And we are looking forward to working to broaden and deepen our partnership"

Before she left, the two sides had reached agreements that would allow India to buy fighter jets and space technology from the U.S. American companies will be setting up two nuclear power plants in India under the 2008 civilian nuclear deal.

Some U.S. experts on South Asia say her main focus was to underscore that India is a major player on the world stage and the U.S. will encourage India to play a more assertive role.

Walter Andersen at the Johns Hopkins University says Secretary Clinton achieved that.
"The bottom line was, it is to the U.S. strategic advantage to have strong India, whether or not there was a military relationship, strong India suits our purposes. On that foundation she developed it further," he said.

Anderson says the two sides differ on significant issues, such as India's refusal to accept strict controls on greenhouse gas emissions and on what he says in some cases are India's protectionist trade policies.

And so he says the two nations can work on differences within the strategic forums they set up this week.

"That is valuable because before those issues become problems we will have discussed with each other and no one will be taken by surprise because we will bring up the key differences that we have," Anderson adds.

During her visit, Secretary Clinton also announced that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be the first world leader to become President Obama's state guest later this year.

Lisa Curtis at the Heritage Foundation says President Obama wants India as a global partner in preventing nuclear proliferation and fighting terrorism.

November's attack in Mumbai are seen India as the equivalent of the 2001 attacks on the U.S. And so Curtis says it was significant that Clinton stopped in Mumbai to privately attend a memorial for the victims.

"I think this sent a very clear signal that she understands the impact on the Indian psyche of these attacks and that she also is sympathetic to Indian terrorism concerns," Curtis states.

She praises Clinton for not broaching publicly India's refusal to resume the peace process with Pakistan, a position India has taken after the Mumbai attacks were traced to a Pakistan-based militant group.

Curtis says the Obama administration can play a crucial role in bringing India and Pakistan together. "If it works privately and encourages both sides to develop a new security paradigm of the region, in which they focus on confronting non-state actors in combating terrorism rather than high profile mediation attempt - I think that would just backfire on the U.S.," she said.

Experts say the trip was just the first step in the new administration's push to build a deeper relationship with India, on a foundation they say was laid down by the two previous administrations.