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US Congratulates India's Congress Party Following Strong Election Victory - 2004-05-13

The United States has congratulated India's Congress Party for the strong showing in the parliamentary election that will apparently allow its leader, Sonia Gandhi, to become the country's next prime minister. U.S. officials say they believe a Congress-led Indian government will continue peace efforts with Pakistan.

The Bush administration had a close working relationship with the government of the now-caretaker Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But it also maintained contacts with Congress Party leaders, including Mrs. Gandhi, and officials here are confident that U.S.-Indian relations will remain strong.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the election outcome again demonstrates the vitality of Indian democracy.

"We congratulate the Congress party on its success in the election. As in any well-established democracy, Prime Minister Vajpayee and his cabinet have accepted the decision of the electorate," he said. "Once again we're shown how strong and how deep are the roots of Indian democracy. We have a very strong bilateral relationship with India. We look forward to working with the new government when its formed."

Led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Bush administration was heavily involved in successful diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir that nearly flared into open warfare in 2002.

Spokesman Boucher made clear U.S. expectations that the next Indian government will continue the peace process with Pakistan, which has accelerated since Mr. Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met in Islamabad the first week of this year.

"We think that does reflect the desire of people of both countries for peace, so we will continue to assist that process and encourage that process," he said. "I would note that during the Secretary's visits to India, I think every time, he's met with Mrs. Gandhi and members of the Congress party leadership, and he's frequently discussed this process going on with Pakistan with them, and made clear how much we encourage and support it."

Mr. Powell last visited India in mid-March and discussed, among other things, the politically-charged issue of the so-called "outsourcing" of jobs by American firms to India. He said the United States would put up no impediments to that process, but would press India to open its economy to more imports of American investments, goods and services.