India, US Preparing to Finalize Strategic Partnership Framework
India, US Preparing to Finalize Strategic Partnership Framework

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American and Indian top officials, in coming days, are hoping to finalize a framework for the expanding strategic dialogue of the two democracies. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh heads to the United States on Saturday for an "official state" visit.  The five-day visit will come at a time when law enforcement and intelligence officials of both countries are holding intensive discussions on counter-terrorism.

Amid a growing security partnership, U.S. officials say President Barack Obama is to inform Prime Minister Singh about his decision on a U.S. troop surge for Afghanistan.

India is anxious about the worsening Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, fearing that could make neighbor and long-time rival Pakistan even more unstable.

U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer, speaking at a news conference at the American Embassy Wednesday predicted Mr. Obama and Mr. Singh will have a "hearty and robust" discussion on regional strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the wake of the landmark civil nuclear deal signed during the second Bush administration, Indian and American officials have been working on building a closer defense relationship. The United States has been pressing India for several years to sign a defense logistics support agreement that would make it easier to hold more joint military exercises, work together on regional maritime security and to sell vital equipment to Indian forces.

Also on the agenda during talks between the two leaders will be enhanced counterterrorism cooperation in hopes of preventing a similar attack like the one a year ago in Mumbai.

For days, the headline news here has been the role two men arrested last month in Chicago may have played in planning that attack, in which more than 160 people died.

The U.S. Ambassador declined to discuss how Washington would react to any extradition request by New Delhi for the suspects but he does say investigators are in constant contact.

"We have been working hand-to-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder, hour-by-hour in cooperating and sharing information with India's government on a daily, weekly and monthly basis," Ambassador Roemer said.

U.S. officials are declining to confirm or deny that while Mr. Singh heads to Washington, CIA director Leon Panetta will be making a return three-day visit here. Indian reports say he will discuss the international investigation looking into the links between the Pakistani terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba and the two arrested Chicago suspects, David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana.

Embassy officials, however, adamantly deny that any top FBI officials are to arrive here this week, as has also been reported by Indian media outlets.

Besides anti-terrorism and defense cooperation, Roemer says President Obama and Prime Minister Singh will also discuss expanding a partnership on climate change mitigation, educational programs and alleviating poverty.

The United States is hoping to signal how highly it values the burgeoning relationship by making Prime Minister Singh the first visiting leader to receive full honors from the Obama administration.
It is being billed as an "official state visit" although India's President Pratibha Patil is the mostly ceremonial head of state.