US says wants to work with India on regional, global challenges

The United States has said that it wants to work with India to addres the regional and global challenges that no one country could solve.

'...the future of our relationship depends on more than strengthening bilateral ties and engagement. As India emerges as one of the world’s leading economic and political powers, the central question is how the United States and India can work together to address the regional and global challenges that no one country alone can solve," US Deputy Secretary of State James B Steinberg has said.

Mr Steinberg was speaking at a conference at the Brookings Institution here on Monday, shortly before Mr Shyam Saran, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement and on Climate Change, addressed the gathering.

The senior US official paraphrased former US President Bill Clinton to say that the central question facing India in the coming years is how it defined its greatness as it took an increasingly prominent role in global affairs.

"In the past, the emergence of new powers placed enormous stress on the international system. Because power was seen as a zero sum game, the rise of new powers was viewed as inherent threat to the status quo. But in the twenty-first century, the emergence of India as strong, stable, democratic and outwardly looking global player with global interests has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of the international system and the security and well-being of all, in a positive sum game.

"For this reason, the real test of our relationship will be how we work together on the great common challenges of our era – strengthening the global trade and investment system, addressing transnational threats like nuclear weapons proliferation, terrorism and pandemic disease, and meeting the urgent danger posed by climate change.

"As great powers, together we have an obligation to help produce what we academics call 'global public goods', to pursue an enlightened version of self-interest that recognizes that individual nations will only thrive if we all thrive, and to build the institutions of cooperation needed to facilitate common efforts to meet shared challenges. Whether at the UN, the WTO, or the Conference on Disarmament, we both have a responsibility to eschew rhetoric in favor of forward looking, practical solutions to the great issues of our time," he said.

Mr Steinberg said US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Clinton were committed to expanding the opportunites to work together and the cooperation with India.

"As India approaches national elections in the coming months, we look forward to developing a comprehensive agenda – doing more bilaterally, regionally, and globally, across the full spectrum of economic, political and security challenges," he said.

The US official said the conference was taking place at a challenging time that brought great responsibilities and significant opportunities for both the US and India. He outlined in great detail how the two countries could build on their accomplishments of recent years to forge "a stronger, more comprehensive relationship to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

He spoke at length about how the relationship between the two countries had been a rapidly advancing trajectory for several years. He said then President Clinton had seized on the end of the Cold War and India’s rapid economic emergence and liberalization to lay the foundation for this transformation.

He also praised the efforts made by one of his predecessors, Strobe Talbott (who was present at the conference) into "addressing decades of suspicion and estrangement to set the stage for a new era in our bilateral relationship."

He said the Bush Administration built upon this legacy, with the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Deal – which he described as "a landmark achievement for both of our countries".

According to him, the agreement not only provides a concrete platform for economic and technological cooperation between the two countries, but also offers a basis for moving beyond one of the most serious barriers to their political cooperation – the status of India’s nuclear programme.

Mr Steinberg said that all this had also been made possible by the strong and growing ties between the people of the two countries.

"Indeed, it can be argued that our governments were late in catching up to the transformed relationship between our peoples. But now the stage is set to embark on what I might term the third stage of our rapprochement. As space faring nations, we know that the third stage is crucial to boosting us into orbit," he remarked.

While expressing satisfaction at the doubling of bilateral trade from $ 21 billion to $ 44 billion between 2004 and 2008, the US official said much more could be done in the future, such as negotiating a bilateral investment treaty, removing tariff and non-tariff trade barriers between the countries, improving enforcement of intellectual property rights, and opening avenues for the private sector to engage directly by loosening government restrictions and actively promoting trade in areas of mutual interest.

Mr Steinberg said there was potential for the two countries to work together to bridge the gap between India's vibrant middle class and its urban and rural poverty.

"The U.S. and India should leverage existing business and scientific community ties, seeking to establish public-private partnerships to catalyze technological advancements in the fields of education, energy, health, and agriculture that will improve the lives of average Indians, stimulate small and medium enterprises in India, and grow markets for U.S. goods and services," he said.

He felt energy was another fruitful avenue for bilateral cooperation. "In a country where 500 million people still lack access to electricity, the United States and India have enormous opportunities to collaborate on energy generation and infrastructure. The U.S. is committed to working directly with India as a robust partner on civilian nuclear energy. Our governments have taken some steps toward realization of the 1-2-3 Agreement, but we both need to do more, and we look forward to working with India to fulfill the promise of civilian nuclear energy cooperation," he said.

"On the security side, we have also taken important steps together, and have a good foundation on which to build. Our navies now exercise regularly together and the fruits of this cooperation were apparent in our contributions to tsunami relief in 2004. We are also opening up avenues to increase defense trade through strong advocacy for U.S. firms. We also need to conclude an agreement on End Use Monitoring, a Logistics Support Agreement and a communications agreement – and to work more closely together on counterterrorism and non-proliferation concerns," he said.

Mr Steinberg stressed that, together, the populations of the two countries were 1.4 billion strong. "And we can do so much together to advance our common interests. We should find ways to work the private sector into our government-to-government dialogues and use strong people to people ties to advance cooperation in education and science and technology, and to facilitate rural development in India," he said.

He said President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would have a chance to meet face to face and share views on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit next week in London.

"It is vital that together we take steps to foster growth, enhance transparent regulation, and keep our markets open to global trade," he said.

He said the two countries should also work together on the issue of climate change.

"The U.S. is committed to putting in place a mandatory plan to cut its own emissions. But India too has a responsibility to play a leadership role in helping to bring about a consensus that brings both developed and developing countries into a global framework. I understand that India has concerns about caps, but with its growing emissions, we must work with India to ensure it is part of any effective solution to climate change. We stand ready not only to look at how American technologies can be linked to any solution, but how we can partner with India to develop new, greener energy sources and promote conservation. Furthermore, India’s high energy demand and insufficient domestic energy resources make it a prime partner for potential investment and technology sharing, both as part of the climate change agenda and also broader energy development.," he said.

Mr Steinberg said both the US and India had a responsibility to craft a strengthened nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) regime that fosters safe, affordable nuclear power to help the globe's energy and environment needs while assuring against the spread of nuclear weapons.

"President Obama has pledged U.S. leadership in meeting our obligations as the world’s most powerful nuclear state, but India has a special role, and responsibility, as well," he said.

Mr Steinberg said that, in the nearer term, the US and India must work together to help address what is one of the most urgent security challenges facing them – to work with the democratic governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan to root out the violent forces that threaten the stability of the region and pose a direct danger to India and America. "We are joined in the searing memories of September 11th and Mumbai in understanding the urgency and importance of this task," he underlined.

"This week President Obama will set out our own approach to this urgent challenge, drawing upon the heroic labor of Brookings’ own Bruce Riedel, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and many others. And we are grateful for the efforts India has made to support economic development and reconstruction in Afghanistan. Next week, we will gather in The Hague, under the chairmanship of the United Nations and the Dutch, to develop a collaborative program involving all of Afghanistan’s neighbors and key donors. Later in April, the friends of democratic Pakistan will meet to pledge support for Pakistan’s efforts to strengthen its economy and institutions to meet the existential threats they face. As President Zardari and the Pakistani government take the courageous steps needed to confront and eliminate extremists, India and the United States must work together with all of our international partners to support them and to further their effort," he said.

Overall, Mr Steinberg said India and the US should explore creating a broader strategic framework for the various diplomatic dialogues that exist between them to address wide-ranging bilateral and global issues.

He said this necessary for their bilateral relationship to achieve the kind of ambitious goals that the two sides had set for themselves.

"As we embark on this critical third stage of our lift-off, we should do so with a clear-eyed recognition that we will not always agree on how best to address the vital challenges of our times. Our history, geography and economic development are different, and will inevitably lead to some divergence of perspectives. But our common values – and our intertwined fate – require us to make the effort to seek common ground. That is the commitment of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, and one that we look forward to working on with the next government in Delhi," he added.


India-US differences on CTBT may recede with move towards nuclear disarmament: Saran

Prime Minister's Special Envoy on the India-US Nuclear Agreement Shyam Saran has said that Indo-US differences over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) could recede into the background if the world moved categorically towards nuclear disarmament in a credible time-frame.

Speaking on "Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement: Expectations and Consequences" at the Brookings Institution here on Monday, Mr Saran explained the background in which India did not sign the CTBT.

"However, since its nuclear test in 1998, India has observed a unilateral and voluntary moratorium and is committed to its continuance. This is spelt out in the Indo-US Joint Statement of 2005. It is also our conviction that if the world moves categorically towards nuclear disarmament in a credible time-frame, then Indo-US differences over the CTBT would probably recede into the background," he said.

The CTBT issue has been seat as potentially a contentious one in India's relations with the new US Administration led by President Barack Obama.

President Obama has made it clear that he would seek Senate ratification of the CTBT, which the US has signed, and India has not. He has also promised to launch a "diplomatic effort to bring on board other states whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force."

Mr Saran explained to the gathering that India had been a consistent votary of the CTBT but did not sign it as it eventually emerged because it was not explicitly linked to the goal of nuclear disarmament.

"For India, this was crucial since it was not acceptable to legitimize, in any way, a permanent division between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. The other reason was the manner in which the CTBT was pushed through, bypassing the Conference on Disarmament, which works by consensus, and bringing the issue before the UN General Assembly," he said.

According to him, this was done to over-ride Indian objections and was justifiably seen in India as a not too subtle attempt to foreclose India’s options.

"Additionally, India was included in a category of states whose signature and ratification was deemed necessary in order for the Treaty to come into force, again an unusual provision, directed at putting international pressure on India to join a Treaty whose provisions it did not agree with. It was against this background that India did not sign the CTBT," he explained.

At the outset, Mr Saran spoke about the business opportunities opening up for both countries as a result of the agreement on civil nuclear cooperation.

He urged the US to scrap the so-called Entity List, which still prohibits sale of US technology and goods to a number of Indian high-tech companies, given the new level of bilateral relations.

The former Foreign Secretary, who was involved in the negotiations that led to the India-US civil nuclear agreement of July, 2005, said India's growth rate could be affected slightly because of the current global economic crisis. But he said energy and defence would remain at the top of the national agenda and this should encourage the US to look at India as a welcome source of demand for its goods and services.

According to him, 10,000 MW of nuclear energy could translate into US $ 150 billion worth of projects, with significant busess opportunities and potential collaboration for both Indian and US companies. Similarly, if India maintains its current level of defence spending to achieve its medium and long-term goals of force upgradation, then a growing part of the expected 10-year acquisition plan of $ 120 billion could be reoriented towards the US, he said.

"This will require the US to overcome lingering Indian doubts about the reliability of U.S. supplies. Simultaneously both of us need to work together to find a mutually acceptable solution which will take care of US legal requirements about end use monitoring of transferred defence articles and also meet our sensitivities, " he said.

Mr Saran said that as a result of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the two countries were, potentially, at a different level of engagement on these hitherto sensitive and even contentious issues, compared to the past.

"For India, the U.S. acknowledgement, endorsed by consensus by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, that India’s non-proliferation record and its current credentials are impeccable, has given the country a welcome sense of vindication. From being an outlier, India is now accepted as a partner in the global nuclear domain," he said.

Mr Saran said President Obama's intention to bring nuclear disarmament back on the US arms control and disarmament agenda corresponded nearly with India's own long-standing advocacy of nuclear disarmament as one of the highest priorities for the international community.

He said India would certainly support any proposed dialogue among all the declared nuclear weapon states on how to make their nuclear capabilities more transparent, create greater confidence and move towards meaningful reductions and eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons.

"The best way to follow up could be for India and the US to support the setting up of an Ad Hoc Working Group in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on nuclear disarmament. India has proposed appointing a special coordinator at the CD to carry out consultations on measures which could lead to consensus and form a basis for the mandate for a Ad-hoc working group on nuclear disarmament. We are ready to consult with the U.S. on this subject," he said.

On the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty (FMCT), Mr Saran said India has held a consistent position and envisages it as a significant contribution to nuclear non-proliferation in all its aspects.

"We have encouraged the negotiation and early conclusion of a multilateral, universally applicable and effectively verifiable treaty on Fissile Material Cut-Off at the Conference on Disarmament," he said.

He noted that the Bush Administration had signalled a change in policy, to insist that the FMCT should have no verification procedures and that national means would be relied upon for ensuring compliance.

"Therefore, even though the July 18, 2005 Indo-US Joint Communiqué states that the two countries would cooperate to bring about an early conclusion of the FMCT in Geneva, the nature of the treaty was left deliberately ambiguous, precisely because India continued to favour multilateral verification procedures. This is also the consensus view among Conference members. We welcome the Obama Administration’s reversion to this consensus and are prepared to work together for the early conclusion of an FMCT. We need bilateral consultations on the issue of the likely mandate and scope of the negotiations," he said.

Mr Saran said India was one of the countries taking the lead in raising international awareness of the dangers inherent in the possible link between Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and international terrorism.

"The possible acquisition, through clandestine means, of nuclear weapons or other WMDs, by terrorist and jihadi groups, adds an entirely new dimension to the nuclear threat, a threat which cannot be deterred by the doctrines of retaliatory use. In fact, the dangers of nuclear terrorism, are another reason to seek the early elimination of nuclear weapons," he said.

"For as long as there is a world divided between nuclear weapon haves and have-nots, there will always be the danger of proliferation to additional countries. This is what gives rise to a clandestine network of the kind run from Pakistan and which creates potential sources of supplies for terrorist or jihadi groups," he said.

Mr Saran said the greatest likelihood of such a threat emanates from India's neighbourhood.

"What is encouraging, from an Indian perspective, is President Obama’s clear recognition of this danger and his willingness to confront it with a sense of urgency. He has committed himself to working together with other concerned countries in developing and implementing a comprehensive set of standards to protect nuclear materials from terrorist threat. During his election campaign, the President also spoke about his intention to convene a Summit on preventing nuclear terrorism. We are willing to work together with the U.S. on this shared concern, which to us, living in a dangerous neighbourhood, is of great importance," he said.

President Obama has also spoken about his plans to expand the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) “from its current focus on stopping illicit nuclear shipments to eradicating nuclear market networks, like the remnants of the Abdul Qadeer Khan organization.”

Mr Saran pointed out that India is not yet a member of PSI and there have been doubts in the country about its consonance with international maritime law.

"However, it is my own belief that India should have an open mind on joining the PSI and in supporting its expanded mandate as envisaged by President Obama. This fits in very well with India’s own concern over clandestine proliferation, especially in our own neighbourhood, and the likelihood of such clandestine activities facilitating the acquisition of nuclear weapons or fissile material, by a terrorist or a jihadi group. We look forward to exploring these ideas further, in a spirit of shared concern and convergent interest, with the US," he said.

He also said India welcomed President Obama's intention to strengthen international non-proliferation efforts.
"We welcome this and are willing to work together with the U.S. and the rest of the international community in building a new, effective and credible non-proliferation architecture. The new Administration has already acknowledged a key element of the Indian approach – that efforts at ensuring global non-proliferation, horizontally to additional states, are unlikely to succeed unless they are linked, integrally, with visible and concrete progress towards nuclear disarmament. Some of the initiatives I have touched upon before, fall into the broad category of non-proliferation, such as the FMCT. However, there is specific reference to restricting the expansion of sensitive nuclear fuel cycle facilities that are capable of producing bomb grade plutonium and uranium. This could take the form of creating regional or international nuclear fuel banks to meet the nuclear fuel needs of countries that do not possess reprocessing or enrichment facilities.

"India has developed indigenously a robust nuclear programme covering the complete fuel cycle. Nevertheless, in practical terms, we are already committed, in the Indo-US Joint Statement of July 18, 2005, to not transferring reprocessing and enrichment technologies and equipment to countries that do not possess them. Furthermore, we have expressed our willingness to ourselves host a regional or multilateral fuel bank, to supply nuclear fuel to other states, under appropriate IAEA safeguards. We would also be prepared, as a supplier nation, to participate in an international fuel bank, which may be located in a third country. It may be however difficult for India to endorse a view that there ought to be a discriminating legal regime put in place, which would allow only some states to possess reprocessing or enrichment facilities but not others. Therefore, while reserving our position on a question of principle, we would be prepared to work together with the U.S. and other friendly countries on practical steps to discourage proliferation," he said.

Mr Saran welcomed President Obama’s intention to join multilateral efforts to prevent military conflict in space and to negotiate an agreement to prohibit the testing of anti-satellite weapons.

"This is an area of convergence on which we would be happy to work together with the U.S. and contribute to a multilateral agreement," he said.

Overall, Mr Saran felt that the initiatives President Obama has signalled his intention to pursue revealed a number of points of convergence between the two countries in the pursuit of a stable, peaceful and eventually nuclear weapons-free world.

"Some of these initiatives have been followed up and announced after the President’s inauguration, such as nuclear disarmament and CTBT ratification. We await the elaboration of others, including the proposed summit on nuclear terrorism, the high level dialogue among declared nuclear weapons states to kickstart the process of nuclear disarmament, the pursuit of an anti-satellite weapon agreement and the elimination of clandestine nuclear proliferation networks.

"This security-related agenda is substantive and no less important than the follow-up on the civil nuclear cooperation agreement in terms of expanded nuclear and high tech commerce. These are early days yet in the new Administration and India, too, is headed towards general elections. The ongoing financial and economic crisis is obviously an over-riding preoccupation not only for the US but for India as well.

"Nevertheless, I believe that the Civil Nuclear agreement has opened up several areas of mutual interest that are worth pursuing and which should, therefore, remain within our sights in the days ahead," Mr Saran added.


UN Human Rights chief to visit India

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will arrive in Delhi on Sunday on a two-day visit to India---her first official trip to Asia since assuming office last September.

Ms Pillay arrived in Nepal on March 18 on a five-day visit during which she see first hand one of her organisation's largest country operations, and assess the overall human rights situation in the country following a tumultuous period of its history that has encompassed a civil war and the transformation of the political system from monarchy to republic.

She is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, President Ram Baran Yadav, and representatives of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and human rights defenders, as well as other UN organisations working in the country.

During her stay in India, the High Commissioner will hold discussions on a range of subjects of mutual interest at the local and international levels with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram and other senior officials as well as members of the judiciary.

She is also slated to give a keynote lecture at a function hosted by the National Human Rights Commission.


US welcomes end to Pakistani stalemate

The United States has welcomed the resolution worked out by the Pakistani government, including the reinstatement of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, to end a political stalemate, describing it as a first step in an ongoing process of reconciliation in that country.

"Well, of course, the Pakistanis themselves resolved the difficulties that were manifest over the last several days," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a joint media appearance with Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin after their meeting here on Monday.

Answering a question on the latest developments in Pakistan, Ms Clinton was all praise for the work done by US diplomats in helping to calm the situation there and prevent a confrontation between the Pakistani government and the Opposition.

"The work that was done by our Ambassador Anne Patterson and the Embassy staff, along with our Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and his staff, was, I think, very helpful in both working with the Pakistani leaders themselves and in keeping our government informed," she said.

Ms Clinton said she had spoken to both President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"And I believe that the resolution that they have agreed upon is the first step of what has to be an ongoing reconciliation and compromising of political views that can stabilize civilian democracy and the rule of law, both of which are essential to the efforts that the Pakistanis themselves see as so critical; namely, preventing extremism and violence from stalking the Pakistani people and the country," she said.

Ms Clinton said the US would continue its "very close working relationship with the government and a number of Pakistani leaders in the days and weeks ahead."

"We have another trilateral meeting scheduled a few months off. So there will be an ongoing effort to make our services available and to help the Pakistanis fight against our common enemy," she added.

Later, the State Department's acting spokesman Robert Wood said that in her telephone calls to the Pakistani leadership, Ms Clinton "wanted to make sure that Pakistani officials understood what our views were on the current situation and the importance of there not being any violence and the need for political dialogue. And that was the purpose of her phone calls.

"Frankly, what brought Pakistan back from the brink was, basically, decisions made by the Pakistani leadership. So this was basically decisions made by Pakistanis for Pakistanis. And they deserve all the credit," he said.

Mr Wood said Ms Clinton had not made any specific demands or threats during her conversations with them.

"The Secretary made no demands at all....No threats at all. The Secretary was expressing the views of the U.S. Government on how we wanted to see the crisis resolved, and that’s exactly what happened," he said.

In reply to persistent questioning, Mr Wood said that, basically, Ms Clinton said to both Mr Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani that the US was very concerned about the situation in Pakistan was developing.

"And she wanted to make clear that non-violence was the way forward, that the Pakistani people need to be assured that the leadership was taking their interests, you know, first and foremost, and want – as I said, wanted to emphasize the importance of non-violence, and that there not be any impediments to peaceful democratic assembly. And that was the essence of the Secretary’s phone call," he said.

He also said that Ms Clinton had made three separate calls to Mr Zardari, Mr Gilani and Mr Sharif.

In reply to another question, Mr Wood said the political situation in Pakistan had been a concern to the US and other governments around the world.

"And what we have tried to encourage the Pakistanis to do is to, you know, take a look at the situation, understand what the implications are of further political instability, and to take steps necessary to move the country away from the brink. And I think the decisions that were taken over the weekend were very important steps in that direction.

"And as I said, you know, all of the credit goes to the Pakistanis for this. This was not something that the U.S. helped bring about. This was something that the Pakistanis decided needed to be done in order to move the country away, as I said, from the brink," he said.

Responding to a specific question about whether Ms Clinton had also called Indian leaders in this connection, Mr Wood said, "I’m not aware of any calls that the Secretary made to Indian leaders. I don’t believe she made any over this weekend."

Mr Wood said there clearly was more that had to be done in terms of "getting a real substantive political dialogue back on track in Pakistan."

The spokesman said one of the reasons why Ms Clinton felt she needed to talk to the Pakistani leaders was the concern that the tensions in Pakistan was diverting the government there away from "its principal enemy---which is al-Qaida--its principal enmies, al-Qaida and the Taliban."


Third Meeting of SAARC Secretaries on Poverty Alleviation

The Third Meeting of SAARC Secretaries on Poverty Alleviation was held here today to review the progress in the implementation of regional and national initiatives on poverty alleviation.

The meeting noted that member-states had made significant progress in poverty alleviation despite the formidable challenges of development, connectivity and the global economic crisis.

The meeting was chaired by Dr Subhas Pani, Secretary, Planning Commission, an official statement said. All member-states attended the meeting.

The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) groups India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal and Afghanistan.

SAARC is home to more than 1.5 billion people, of whom about 25 percent are living below the poverty line.

All Member States have incorporated the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and SAARC Development Goals(SDGs) in their national plans.

During today's discussions, the participants shared their experiences in attainment of SDGs and agreed to strengthen efforts to provide health, education and infrastructure to South Asians for poverty alleviation.

A bi-annual document on a Regional Poverty Profile (RPP) is prepared within SAARC. The RPP document of 2007 on rural infrastructure will be ready by July 2009. The theme for the RPP 2008-2009 is ‘Food security challenges for the poor and social inclusion’. The document will be ready by the end of 2009.

As directed by the Thirty First Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers(Colombo; 27-28 February 2009) Member States constituted country teams to prepare their country reports on attainment of SDGs and made their nominations on the Inter-Governmental mechanism within SAARC to monitor the progress of attainment of SDGs. Documents will also be ready by end of 2009.

The Meeting reiterated the concern expressed at the Colombo meeting about the adverse impact of the global economic crisis on the economies of the region and agreed to strengthen regional cooperation to meet this challenge.

The next Meeting of Secretaries on Poverty Alleviation will be held in Islamabad in November/December 2009 to finalise the two documents on Regional Poverty Profile 2008-2009 and attainment of SDGs for consideration at the SAARC Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Alleviation to be held in Nepal in 2010, the statement added.



Indian among winners of US online video contest on culture

Bijoy Thangaraj of Bangalore is among the four winners of an online video contest, "My Cultre + Your Culture =?" conducted by the US State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

The contest was co-sponsored by the Adobe Youth Voices initiative of the Adobe Foundation. ECA launched the initiative at the National Press Club here on December 1, 2008, to encourage cross-cultural community building and mutual understanding via the Web and social media platforms and to attract new members to the "ExchangesConnect" social networking site, at

Since its launch in October 2008, ExchangesConnect has drawn over 8,400 members from 170 countries, a statement from the State Department said.

Members of the ExchangesConnect online community were invited to submit a three-minute video addressing the contest theme, and they submitted more than 170 videos.

The community voted on the video entries and an expert panel of judges — all alumni of ECA exchange programmes — ranked the “top 40” videos.

ECA selected two foreign and two American Grand Prize winners, including one adult and one youth winner in each category. The international winners will receive a two-week all-expenses-paid exchange programme to the United States and the American winners will receive the same to an overseas destination. In addition, winners will receive multi-media software provided by the Adobe Foundation.

The contest winners, who will be honored at an event later this year, are Jose Vinícius Reis Gouveia of Recife, Brazil, 16, for “Human Colours”, Bijoy Thangaraj of Bangalore, 23, for “My Culture + Your Culture = World of Wonder”, Grant Jirka of Columbus, Nebraska, 14, for “Winning Team” and Tim Peters of Wheaton, Illinois, 22, for “A Friend in Nanjing”.

The contest judges were musician, performer, and author Toni Blackman; actress and Founder of the Cancer Schmancer Movement Fran Drescher; graphic artist Milton Glaser; President of the Egyptian Cultural Civic Education Organization Raafat Khalid; and Founder and former Co-Chairman of New Line Cinema and Principal Unique Features Bob Shaye, the statement added.


US says wants to ramp up ties with India

The United States today told India that it wanted to ramp up bilateral cooperation in several areas ranging from climate change to counter-terrorism.

"There are just a whole host of issues where the United States and India can work together, have been working together, and that, you know, some of these issues are going to require not just U.S. and Indian cooperation, but cooperation of others," US State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said after a meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon here today.

Ms Clinton and Mr Menon also talked about Afghanistan and the steps needed to be taken there, the situation in Sri Lanka and the fight against terrorism, especially Pakistan's role.

Mr Wood said Ms Clinton was "very interested" in hearing Mr Menon's views on Afghanistan as well as a host of other subjects.

This was the first high-level contact between the two countries after US President Barack Obama assumed office in January this year.

The meeting also discussed the additional protocol that India has worked out with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as a follow-up to the India-US agreement on civil nuclear energy cooperation.

"They talked in general about, you know, cooperation on climate change. I don’t remember them getting into a lot of specifics on that, but they did talk in general about the importance of working together to try to deal with the issue of climate – you know, climate change, global warming," Mr Wood said.

On Afghanistan, Mr Wood said Ms Clinton "wanted to hear the foreign secretary’s views on the best way forward ... from the Indian point of view. And that was, in essence, the basis of the discussion."

To a question whether the Secretary of State planned to visit India sometime, Mr Wood said, "At some point, the Secretary will be going to India, but there isn’t any plan at this moment of her travel. But you know, when there is, we’ll certainly let you know."

In response to a more pointed query about whether such a visit would take place in the next few months before the April-May General Elections in India, Mr Wood said, "Well, I don’t know. I don’t want to rule anything out, but there was no discussion of a particular timetable for a visit."

On the Mumbai attacks, the meeting discussed ways of preventing such incidents from happening again.

"And I think you can view it in the overall level of cooperation that both the United States and India are involved in. And I think it shows that, you know, this is an issue that is not just an issue for the U.S. and India; it’s really a global – it requires a global effort to counter terrorism in the region, but of course, it was an issue that did come up in the meeting," he said.

India’s Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen, Deputy Chief of Mission Arun Kumar Singh, Joint Secretary Gayathri Kumar and other External Affairs Ministry officials accompanied Mr Menon to the State Department.

Mr Menon also had separate meetings with US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.


US trying to prevent confrontation in Pakistan

The United States is making hectic efforts to prevent a confrontation between the government and the opposition in Pakistan.

State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said at his daily briefing that Mr Richard Holbrooke, Special US Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, had spoken to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday. He also said that US Ambassador Anne W Patterson had spoken to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on Wednesday.

"And the point that Ambassador Patterson made, as well as Ambassador Holbrooke, is that we want to see the situation dealt with in accordance to the rule of law in Pakistan, that violence be avoided, and that any impediments to peaceful and democratic activities not be put in place," Mr Wood said.

"And we’re continuing to watch the situation, as I said yesterday, and we will continue to engage the Government of Pakistan in discussions as well as other parties to try to make sure that this – that what transpires in Pakistan is dealt with within the content of Pakistan’s constitution," he said.

To a question on the US position on the Pakistan government's decision to restrict freedom of assembly, Mr Wood said, "...we discourage any impediments to peaceful and democratic activities."

Mr Wood said the US Embassy in Islamabad had had conversations with other elements of Pakistani society also about the situation.

"We are still trying to, you know, formulate a good assessment, but obviously, the fact that these calls were placed means that we are concerned about the situation. And we want to make sure that no violence takes place and that, as I said, that all differences are resolved within the political construct of Pakistan’s constitution," he said.

Asked if the US government thought the people who were rounded up by the Pakistani authorities should be released, he said, "That’s a decision that’s going to have to – that’s a decision for the Pakistani people. It’s not for me here at the podium to make."


Obama nominates Rahul "Richard" Verma as Clinton's aide

US President Barack Obama has announced his intent to nominate leading Indian-American lawyer Rahul "Richard" Verma, a partner at top law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP, as Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs in the State Department.

Once he is confirmed, Mr Verma would become the highest-ranking Indian American ever in the US Department of State.

Mr Verma most recently served as Senior National Security Adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a position he held for several years.

In 2008, Mr. Verma was appointed to serve on the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The Commission's comprehensive report, "World At Risk" was released in December.

Mr. Verma is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, a former country director for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and has worked in the House of Representatives. He also served as a member of the Obama/Biden Defense Department Transition Team.

He holds degrees from the Georgetown University Law Center, American University’s Washington College of Law, and Lehigh University. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, was formerly an International Affairs Fellow of the Council, and has served on the National Academy of Sciences Panel on Critical Infrastructure Protection and the Law.

President Obama also nominated several others to key positions today, including Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry as Ambassador to Afghanistan and Christopher R. Hill as Ambassador to Iraq.

He also announced his intent to nominate Ivo Daalder as United States Permanent Representative on the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Ambassador to NATO) and Alexander Vershbow as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

"I am honored and grateful that these dedicated public servants have agreed to join my administration as we work to tackle the great challenges of our time. These extraordinarily accomplished individuals have served their country with great distinction, and they have each agreed to take on tough assignments. I am confident that they will work with a sense of purpose and pragmatism, along with Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates, as we renew American diplomacy, strengthen our military, and advance our values and interests around the world," Mr Obama said.

Mr Hill, the nominee for Ambassador to Iraq, is currently the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Lieutenant General Eikenberry, the nominee for Ambassador to Afghanistan, is the Deputy Chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.


US urges Beijing to hold talks with Dalai Lama's envoys

The United States has expressed concern about the human rights situation in Tibet and called for a substantive dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama's representatives to solve the longstanding issues between them and achieve true and lasting stability in Tibet.

In near identical statements on the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the White House and the State Department said the United States respected the territorial integrity of China and considered Tibet to be part of China.

"At the same time we're concerned about the human rights situation in Tibet. The State Department recently released its annual report on human rights practices for China. In 2008, the government increased its cultural and religious repression in Tibetan areas, and that we believe that substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama's representatives that makes progress in bringing about solutions to longstanding issues is the best way to achieve true and lasting stability in Tibet," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing.

"We urge China to reconsider its policies in Tibet that have created tensions due to their harmful impact on Tibetan religion, culture, and livelihoods. We believe that substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives, consistent with the Dalai Lama’s commitment to disclaiming any intention to seek sovereignty or independence for Tibet, can lead to progress in bringing about solutions and can help achieve true and lasting stability in Tibet," State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said.

The statements came on a day when Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi arrived in Washington, his first visit after the Barack Obama Administration took charge in January.

Mr Yang is scheduled to meet US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and officials in the White House during his three-day stay here.


Three Indian-origin students among Intel Talent Search winners

Three students of Indian origin are among the ten winners of the Intel Science Talent Search, America's oldest and most prestigious pre-college science competition aimed at honouring the next generation of American innovators.

The three were Narendra Tallapragada, 17, of Burke, Virginia, in 4th place, Preya Shah, 17, of Setauket, New York, in 8th place and Nilesh Tripuraneni, 18, of Fresno, California in the 9th place, Intel Corporation announced today.

The contest, a programme of the Society for Science and the Public, saw Eric Larsen of Eugene, Oregon, win the top award, a $ 100,000 scholarsip from the Intel Foundation, for his research project classifying mathematical objections called fustion categories. Eric's work describes these in certain dimensions for the first time, the statement said.

The second place went to William Sun, 17, of Chesterfield, Montana, who received a $75,000 scholarship for his biochemistry project that studied the effects of a recently discovered molecule that could potentially help efforts to treat bacterial infections or prevent neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

In the third position was Philip Streich, 18, of Platteville, Wisconsin, who received a $50,000 scholarship for his chemistry project on carbon nanotubes that may lead to the development of ultra-strong materials and ultra-fast nano-electronics. Philip's work has resulted in five provisional patent filings.

Tallapragada received a $25,000 scholarship for his project to find ways to simplify complex models of atomic and molecular interactions. His goal is to one day create "mini-computers" that can be used, for instance, to create automatic insulin pumps inside diabetic patients or intelligent clothing that responds to temperature.

Shah got a $20,000 scholarship for designing and synthesizing a tumor-targeting drug for cancer treatment that represents a new approach to delivery of chemotherapy agents and possibly treatment of multi-drug resistant cancer without causing significant side effects.

Tripuraneni won a $20,000 scholarship for formulating a set of hydrodynamic equations that may provide a potential method to better understand the first movements of the universe and could aid in the development of a quantum theory of gravity.

Apart from the ten winners, 20 other finalists received $ 5000 scholarships and a new laptop. More than 1600 high school seniors entered the contest this year.

"At a time when our country requires innovation to spur economic growth, it is inspiring to see such talented young people using critical thinking skills to find solutions to scientific challenges," said Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. "These 40 scientists not only represent hope for America to remain competitive in the global economy, but also verify the power of investing in math and science."

The Intel Science Talent Search encourages students to tackle challenging scientific questions and develop the skills necessary to solve the problems of tomorrow. Over the past 67 years, Science Talent Search finalists have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes, a Fields Medal, the National Medal of Science and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the public engagement in scientific research and education, has owned and administered the Science Talent Search since its inception in 1942.

Elizabeth Marincola, president of Society for Science & the Public said, "The road to mitigating the most challenging problems we face, not just as a country but as a world, is paved with science. Society for Science & the Public is proud to join with Intel in congratulating Eric and all of the Intel Science Talent Search 2009 finalists whose dedication to science and research will lead us down this road."
The contest is jointly funded by Intel Corporation and Intel Foundation.


Prof Lettinga of The Netherlands wins Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize

Professor Gatze Lettinga of The Netherlands has been chosen for this year's Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize for his environmentally-sustainable solution for the treatment of used water using anaerobic technology.

Menon to meet Clinton in Washington

Terrorism and the situation in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are bound to be high on the agenda of Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon's talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior US officials here Tuesday.

"Pak can do more to bring Mumbai attackers to justice": US

Ahead of Tuesday's meeting between Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the US State Department has said that Washington felt Pakistan could do more to bring those responsible for the November 26 terror attacks in Mumbai to book.

US confident relations with India will strengthen

The Barack Obama Administration today said it was confident that India-US relations would grow and become stronger in the coming years.

"The United States and India share many interests. We began with a strategic dialogue. We now see India as a strategic partner, as well as an economic partner," US State Department's Acting Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid said at his daily briefing here Friday.

He was responding to a question whether there would be any changes in India-US relations under the new Administration. He was also commenting on the fact that the two countries would be without Ambassadors for some time.

US Ambassador in Delhi David Mulford has already returned home after completing his term and Indian Ambassador in Washington Ronen Sen is preparing to leave next week at the end of an eventful tenure. Both were able to bring about a major upswing in the relationship between the two countries which culminated in the signing of the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement.

"I don’t see the U.S.-India relation doing anything but growing and becoming stronger, no matter who the next ambassador is," Mr Duguid said.

"We have a growing amount of cross-trade. We have a number of issues that we have been able to work together on over the last ten years or so, and we will continue on that trend, I foresee," he said.

Asked if there would be any changes in the H-1B visa rules or in the areas of outsourcing and trade, he said, "I see U.S.-India relations becoming stronger and not negative policies being generated because of our growing contacts."


Obama names Vivek Kundra as CIO

United States President Barack Obama today named Delhi-born Vivek Kundra, 34, as the Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the White House.

The Federal CIO directs the policy and strategic planning of federal information technology investments and is responsible for oversight of federal technology spending. The Federal CIO establishes and oversees enterprise architecture to ensure system interoperability and information sharing and ensure information security and privacy across the federal government. The CIO will also work closely with the Chief Technology Officer to advance the President’s technology agenda, a White House statement said.

"Vivek Kundra will bring a depth of experience in the technology arena and a commitment to lowering the cost of government operations to this position. I have directed him to work to ensure that we are using the spirit of American innovation and the power of technology to improve performance and lower the cost of government operations. As Chief Information Officer, he will play a key role in making sure our government is running in the most secure, open, and efficient way possible," President Obama said while making the appointment.

Kundra formerly served in Mayor Fenty's cabinet as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the District of Columbia, responsible for technology operations and strategy for 86 agencies.

He has been recognized among the top 25 CTOs in the country and as the 2008 IT Executive of the Year for his pioneering work to drive transparency, engage citizens and lower the cost of government operations.

Kundra is also recognized for his leadership in public safety communications, cyber security and IT portfolio management.

Before Kundra came to the District, Governor Timothy M. Kaine appointed him Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the first dual cabinet role in the state's history.

Kundra's diverse record also includes technology and public policy experience in private industry and academia. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia's Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership and holds an MS in Information Technology from the University of Maryland.


BEML-SMJ combine to bid for mining contracts

BEML Limited, a defence public sector enterprise and leading mining and construction equipment manufacturing company, has entered into an agreement with Sumber Mitra Jaya (SMJ) of Indonesia to bid for upcoming contract mining businesses in India.

An agreement to this effect was signed between BEML Limited and SMJ here in the presence of the Speaker of Indonesian Parliament Agung Laksono, Ambassador of Indonesia in India Mr.Andi M. Ghalib and BEML Chairman and Managing Director V RS Natarajan during an Indonesian business delegation's visit to India..

The consortium approach includes agreement for investments in contract mining wherein 30% of the investment will be made by BEML and 70% by SMJ. Whereas BEML investment will also comprise equipment, spares and services, SMJ will take care of the rest of the responsibilities, including planning and execution of the mining.

This strategic alliance of BEML with SMJ is significant in view of the huge opportunities that are likely to arise out of the opening up of coal blocks to private players to undertake contract mining, an official statement said.

BEML is exploring the possibilities of establishing a company in Indonesia to improve the export prospects in association with SMJ as the local minority partner, looking at the huge business opportunities for mining equipment, spares , services and also for rebuild and rehabilitation of the equipments.

Currently, BEML has export orders of Rs.180 crores from the Indonesian company, the statement added.


IATA calls on air cargo industry to manage crisis

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on the cargo supply chain to battle the current air cargo crisis by improving security, delivering a better product and boosting efficiency.

“The industry is in crisis and nobody knows that better than our cargo colleagues. Cargo demand has fallen off a cliff. After a shocking 22.6% decrease in December it dropped a further 23.2% in January,” IATA Director General and CEO Giovanni Bisignani said in a recorded message to the 700 industry experts attending the World Cargo Symposium organised by the association.

Air cargo represents about 10% of industry revenues. As 35% of the value of goods traded internationally is transported by air, air cargo is a barometer of global economic health. “The continued decline in cargo markets is a clear sign that we have not yet seen the bottom of this economic crisis,” said Bisignani.

In December 2008 IATA forecast 2009 freight volumes to fall 5%. Combined with a decrease in yields, this would result in a 9% drop in freight revenues to US$54 billion.

“Unfortunately, the shocking fall in demand that followed is making these projections look optimistic,” said Bisignani.

“As we battle this crisis, we must look for opportunities that will build our future with a more efficient industry focused on meeting customer needs. Customers want a good price and a great product, delivered via the supply chain with speed and reliability. And in crisis, customers will only get more demanding. To meet their expectations and build a solid future for the industry, change is required,” said Bisignani.

Bisignani highlighted three priorities for the supply chain: security, e-freight and Cargo 2000:

Security: Air cargo security costs continue to rise. Screening technology is not being optimised and definitions, requirements and enforcement vary from country to country. IATA called for a strong industry effort to convince the US that its plans to implement 100% cargo screening in 2010 are misguided.

“Scanning everything loaded onto the aircraft is a waste of precious resources. To be effective, we must identify the risks involved with a supply chain approach. IATA’s Secure Freight strategy focuses on a data-driven, risk-based approach with shared responsibility throughout the supply chain. Governments must remember that this is a global industry. We need a globally coordinated approach that looks at the entire supply chain,” said Bisignani.

Efficiency with e-freight: In the face of falling yields and demand Bisignani stressed that e-freight as a key driver for efficiency and savings is more important then ever. “Improving quality without reducing costs will not get us far. We need to modernise the old paper-based processes of air cargo with e-freight,” said Bisignani. Each freight shipment is accompanied by more than 30 documents. E-freight currently has the capability to convert 12 of these to electronic documentation. Already it is operating at 18 locations covering 26 airports.

“E-freight is not a theory. It is working and putting in place the basis to deliver efficiencies and cost reductions throughout the supply chain. By 2010 our target is to have the capability to remove 64% of the paper from 81% of international shipments. In other words, we will eliminate 20 documents and be live in 44 locations,” said Bisignani.

“To be successful, we need the commitment of the entire supply chain to generate economies of scale. The benefits are enormous: US$4.9 billion in cost savings for the supply chain, a 22% reduction in shipper buffer stock, a 25% reduction in customs penalties, an average 24 hour decrease in shipping time and a 1% increase in market share against sea shipments. Everybody benefits. Everybody needs to participate,” said Bisignani.

Quality - Cargo 2000: Bisignani also called for greater industry participation of the entire supply chain in Cargo 2000 to improve quality. “Cargo 2000 quality standards are even more important in this crisis. IATA is committed to Cargo 2000. It is part of our recommended quality standard. But to be effective, we need the whole supply chain to be aligned with a common vision on how to deliver quality. That is what Cargo 2000 is all about,” said Bisignani.

Cargo 2000 was established over a decade ago to simplify processes by reducing 40 steps in the logistics chain to 19 and to implement effective quality standards.

The IATA World Cargo Symposium is taking place in Bangkok, Thailand from 2-5 March 2009. Under the theme of “Focus on the Customer: Delivering in Turbulent Times,” the symposium is looking at building a solid future for air cargo, while battling the crisis that currently envelops the global economy. IATA will release an updated industry financial forecast on 24 March.


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