Clinton's visit: India, US to discuss Afghan, Iran, n-deal

Clinton begins her three-day visit to India, perhaps her farewell visit to the country as the US's top diplomat, from Kolkata Sunday after a trip to Dhaka and Beijing.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

She will meet West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Monday and is expected to press for FDI in retail sector in the state. Issues relating to business opportunities for American corporates are also likely to figure in the discussions, reliable sources said.

Ahead of Clinton's visit, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met Banerjee to discuss Clinton's trip to Kolkata and issues that are expected to figure in the discussions.

Clinton touches down in New Delhi Monday evening and will hold wide-ranging talks with Krishna next day to set the stage for the India-US strategic dialogue in Washington next month.

Besides Krishna, she is expected to call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and meet National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon.

The agenda for the talks has not been unveiled, but officials involved with the visit said "all issues that have a bearing on the India-US relation" will be discussed.

With the international coalition troops planning to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014, cooperation in stabilising the violence-torn country will be top of the agenda.

Clinton's visit to India takes place before a series of important global initiatives on Afghanistan, including the NATO summit in the US and the Tokyo conference next month.

India is expected to brief Clinton about a conclave of regional investors it plans to organise here in June to rope in key regional players for the stability and development of Afghansitan, said official sources.

India is also likely to seek clarification over confusing remarks by the US envoy to Pakistan over the bounty on 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed.

Days after US Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman had told Foreign Secretary Rajan Mathai April 2 in New Delhi that a bounty of $10 million had been placed on Saeed's head for his role in 26/11 attacks and other terror activities, US envoy to Pakistan Cameron Munter April 28 told some Pakistani journalists that there was no bounty on Saeed's head.

Munter is reported to have said that the US reward for justice programme was based on the information received that could lead to arrest or conviction of any UN-designated terrorist of any country. The US envoy's remark has upset New Delhi, which hailed the bounty as a vindication of India's stand.

Another important issue on the table will be Iran where there is unlikely to be a meeting of minds, with India making it clear that it will abide by the UN sanctions and not unilateral sanctions by the US.

However, New Delhi is expected to update Clinton on its efforts to diversify its sources of oil supply. Iran accounts for 10-11 percent of India's total oil imports.

As Clinton will be coming to India after a trip to China, the two sides are also likely to discuss increased Chinese assertiveness in South China Sea. Clinton has been pitching for a bigger role for India in the East Asia region, asking India "to think East and act East".

On the bilateral track, Clinton and Krishna are expected to review the entire gamut of issues, including the landmark India-US civil nuclear deal that continues to languish due to some lingering differences over the scope of India's civil nuclear liability law that seeks to impose onerous penalties in case of an atomic accident.

The US corporates find the liability law as a deterrent to doing business with India.

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