NEW DELHI – The United States and India papered over differences on U.S. arms sales to Pakistan and an Indian oil pipeline deal with Iran on Wednesday, ahead of a possible visit to India by President Bush later this year.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) discussed future sales of sophisticated F-16 fighter planes to both India and rival Pakistan with her Indian counterpart, but said no announcement is imminent.
India wants to buy the U.S. weaponry while denying it to Pakistan (search). The neighboring rivals have fought three wars since their 1947 independence from Britain.
Meanwhile, the United States wants India to scotch a potential deal to build an oil pipeline from Iran to serve the expanding economy in India, the world's largest democracy.
"We did express ... concerns about several matters on the defense issue," Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh (search) said at a joint press conference with Rice.
"There are one or two items on which we don't agree, but our relations have now reached a maturity where we can discuss these things freely and frankly."
Rice said U.S. objections to the pipeline are well-known. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran and wants to keep international pressure on the Tehran regime to give up nuclear ambitions and institute democratic reforms.
Singh, however, indicated little willingness to back off pipeline discussions.
"We have no problems of any kind with Iran," Singh said.
Rice said F-16 sales will be a topic during talks in Pakistan, the next stop on her one-week whistle-stop tour of South Asia and Asia. Pakistan bought 40 F-16s during the 1980s, but Congress put a stop to sales in 1990.
Renewed sales to Pakistan would reflect U.S. gratitude for Pakistan's cooperation in the global hunt for terrorists. The United States also signed off on a separate $1.3 billion arms package to Pakistan last year.
Neither Rice nor Singh mentioned plans for an upcoming Bush visit to India, but an invitation to Bush is widely expected for October.
Asked to comment on Italy's plan to reduce its 3,000-member force in Iraq this fall, Rice was careful to praise Italy's "steadfast" cooperation.
"I am quite certain ... any decisions that the Italians make about their forces will be fully coordinated in a way that does not put (U.S.) forces at risk," Rice said.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has demanded answers from the United States about the shooting death of an Italian intelligence agent at a U.S. checkpoint in Baghdad earlier this month.
The U.S.-led war in Iraq is highly unpopular in Italy, but until recent days Berlusconi had refused to discuss pulling out any Italian troops. Except for the United States, only Britain has more troops committed to Iraq.