Hillary Clinton to visit India next month

Washington, April 27: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would make a trip to India early next month ahead of the US-India Strategic Dialogue in Washington co-chaired by her and Indian Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna.

The surprise announcement Wednesday of Clinton’s decision to visit India May 7-8 after the fourth round of US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing on May 3-4 was seen as an attempt to iron out differences over potentially contentious issues like Iran before the June 13 dialogue.

The official announcement by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland hinted as much saying she looked forward to the Washington dialogue and will meet with Indian government officials in New Delhi to review progress in the strategic partnership.

The announcement, and timing, of the visit cane as a surprise, as Clinton was in any case scheduled to engage Krishna in Washington just five weeks later.

A meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also on the cards.

The Clinton visit is also considered significant as it comes just after her high-level talks in China and ahead of the crucial mid-May NATO summit in Chicago focused on Afghanistan, where the constructive role played by India is well recognised in Washington.

Clinton, who will visit Bangladesh before reaching New Delhi, will stop over in Kolkata May 7 and meet West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee “and other civil society organization representatives.”

There were also reports that she might visit Pakistan after the Chiba trip to smoothen the embittered relationship with Islamabad, but India was not on the cards. However, Clinton is not visiting Pakistan this time.

The announcement also led to speculation that Clinton, who has played a key role in nurturing India-US relations over the last two decades, was planning the Delhi trip as a farewell visit to India since she has indicated she would not take up the same job in the next Obama administration.

Besides Clinton, several other top US leaders are expected to visit India in the next few months. Media reports said that Defence Secretary Leon Panetta may visit India in early June for talks with his counterpart A. K. Antony.

Last week, visiting Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner would be visiting India possibly in June for the next round of India-US Economic Dialogue.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

IANS