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India's Foreign Minister Holds Talks with US Lawmakers - 2004-01-21

India's foreign minister, Yashwant Sinha, has met with U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The Indian official, on a two-day visit to Washington, discussed issues including India's reluctance to join the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, Pakistan-India talks, and India-U.S. cooperation.

Mr. Sinha had an unusually long 90-minute meeting with members of the House of Representative's International Relations Committee.

The thaw in relations with Pakistan and what may come from negotiations aimed at reducing tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors was among the topics discussed.

Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said the foreign minister characterized the talks between Pakistan and India as very cautious, but very sincere.

Congressman Hyde gave VOA this brief summary of what lawmakers raised with Mr. Sinha. "We are discussing the things that are subject to consensus with Pakistan, as well as India. And a role for India in Iraq," he said.

India has so far declined to participate in U.S.-led coalition operations in Iraq.

After his talks, Mr. Sinha confirmed to VOA that the subject was discussed, describing the discussion as "positive" from his point of view.

Another member of the House International Relations committee, Ed Royce, said the question of Indian participation in Iraq was "kicked around a little bit," but no conclusion was reached. He added that "still hesitant" would be an accurate way to describe the Indian position on Iraq.

Mr. Royce says most of the attention in the meeting was on the U.S.-India announcement of cooperation in non-military space and nuclear activities. But regional issues, were also on the agenda.

"The recent South Asia summit, the free-trade area," he said. "We went through the details, which are very encouraging when you look at it, in terms of [phasing] out of tariffs between Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan and what this might portend in terms of wealth creation, job creation, and a lessening of tensions. And of course we talked about the bold steps that are being taken between India and Pakistan, the positive developments there as well."

Another lawmaker, Congressman Tom Lantos, discussed with Mr. Sinha the question of India's future inclusion in the U.S. government's AIDS initiative announced last year by President Bush and approved by Congress.

Mr. Lantos wants India included in the $15 billion effort, which currently targets countries in Africa and the Caribbean.

The Indian foreign minister's visit to Capitol Hill follows his earlier talks with President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.