US seeks to settle Indian anxiety with this week's high-level talks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Beginning high-level U.S.-India talks, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday the United States has a deep strategic interest in forging strong ties with India and nurturing its emergence as a global power.

The comments by Undersecretary of State William Burns are an attempt to deal with fears in India that relations with the United States have slipped as the Obama administration pursues cooperation with India's neighboring rivals, China and Pakistan.

Burns, in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, repeatedly sought to show how important India is to U.S. interests, including the war in Afghanistan and dealing with global climate change, education, poverty, counterterrorism and trade initiatives. Similar reassurance will be among the chief aims of U.S. officials during the inaugural U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue that wraps up Friday.

Providing some symbolism to Burns' words, President Barack Obama plans to attend a reception Thursday for Indian officials and give a speech.

"Never has there been a moment when India and America mattered more to each other," said Burns, the highest-ranking career diplomat in the United States. "Never has there been a moment when the partnership between India and America mattered more to the rest of the globe."

Burns said a third of the Cabinet has visited India since Obama took office almost a year and a half ago, and that Obama himself intends to visit this year.

Despite high-level visits and near-constant diplomatic contact, India has been wary of Obama, who followed a president celebrated for transforming U.S.-Indian ties. Former President George W. Bush shepherded a landmark accord to share civilian nuclear energy with formerly shunned India, making it the cornerstone of a new strategic relationship.

In his speech Burns directly addressed widespread qualms in both countries, including India's worry "that we have downgraded India because we see Asia exclusively through the lens of an emerging China, with India's role secondary."

In an effort to restore Indian confidence, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will host Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna and other senior officials in talks this week that will address energy, climate change, education, economics, trade, agriculture, science, technology and health initiatives. The countries also will talk about ways to share information on terror groups and on India's role in Afghanistan.

This week's talks, Burns said, are meant to deepen habits of collaboration and drive away lingering doubts. "Our individual success, at home and abroad, depends on our cooperation," he said.


Associated Press writers Muneeza Naqvi and Nirmala George in New Delhi contributed to this report.