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Rudd says violence against Indians unacceptable, so are reprisal attacks

Kevin RuddAustralian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today spoke out against so-called "reprisal attacks" and "vigilante action" against those who had targeted Indian students in the country in recent weeks even as he said that the attacks against Indian students were unacceptable.

"I think what we need to see is a bit of balance in this debate. It’s unacceptable for anyone to commit an act of violence against any student of any ethnicity anywhere in Australia. Chinese, Indian, Callithumpian, Queenslanders, anybody," Mr Rudd said in an interview with Neil Mitchel on Radio 3AW.

"Any act of violence. And the truth is, in our cities right across the country, not just Melbourne there are acts of violence every day, that’s just a regrettable part of urban life. That’s one thing. But it’s equally unacceptable for so called ‘reprisal attacks’ and for so called ‘vigilante’ action as well. It’s equally unacceptable for there to be retribution attacks and for there to be vigilante action," he said.

Mr Rudd's remarks came two days after reports of a retaliatory attack in which a man was stabbed after he called out to a group of Indians and asked them to leave the country.

There were also reports that Indian students had taken to patrolling some of the areas where attacks had taken place.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said in New Delhi yesterday that Indian students should show restraint and concentrate on their studies instead of going in for retaliatory action.

Speaking in the Indian Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had expressed concern about the attacks on Indian students in Australia. "I have been appalled by the senseless violence and crime, some of it racially motivated against our students in Australia. I propose to engage the authorities in Australia in a high level dialogue with a view to taking stock of the situation and to providing adequate security for Indian students," he said.

Dr Singh said he had already spoken to Mr Rudd on this subject and the latter had assured him that any racist attacks on Indian students would be strongly dealt with.

"I think everyone needs just to draw some breath on this and I think we need to see a greater atmosphere of general calm. Australia, I’m advised is one of the safest countries in the world for international students, one of the safest countries in the world for international students

He said violence in cities was a fact of life around the world. He pointed out that there were as many as 20 Australians who had been victims of assault in India during the past decade. "Now, that’s not the result of Australians being targeted in India, it’s just a fact of violence in cities around the world. As you know, as you’re walking down the streets of Paris or London there’s always a risk that something’s going to happen. So I do think we need some balance in this debate," he said.

Mr Rudd said he fully supported hardline measures against those responsible for the attacks on students, whether Indians or of any other nationality. "And furthermore, we also need to render it completely unacceptable people taking the law into their own hands and believing that retribution attacks or so called vigilante action is the right way to go. As I said, all cities from time to time are going to have acts of violence. Let’s put this into perspective. And Australia I’m advised on the statistics is one of the safest countries in the world for international students," he said.

"It’s unacceptable for any acts of violence to be committed against Indian students. It’s unacceptable for any student group to believe they can take the law into their own hands and engage in so called retribution attacks or vigilante action, as I said. We need some balance in this and you know what the balancing statistic is, this is one of the safest countries in the world for international students. Let’s put all of this into perspective. And let’s also put it into perspective in terms of politicians elsewhere perhaps seeking to inflame this debate as well," he said.

Mr Rudd also took a few calls from Indians who rang up the radio station during the interview. He told one of them, identified as Mickey, that law abiding citizens from any part of the world were welcome in Australia.

"We pride ourselves on that. We have an open door. And for the more than 200,000 Australians of Indian origin, they are fantastic first class citizens of Australia. I’ve known them for decades and decades in my own community in Queensland. I’ve known them right across Australia. Secondly, for the 70,000 or 80,000 Indian students in this country, they are equally welcome. If any act of violence is committed against any student in your community, your first and immediate action has to be to get straight on to the police," he said.

The remark came in the context of reports from Sydney that the police were sometimes not getting direct and immediate reports about some incidents.

"Any act, any threatening act any physical act of violence should be reported immediately. If there is any concern about lack of follow up, immediately then contact your local member of parliament and demand an answer, okay. So first and foremost go to the right channels, which is the police, who I think in difficult circumstances are doing a good job. Secondly, if you believe that no action has occurred within an immediately reasonable period of time, straight on to your local member of parliament," he said.

Mr Rudd told the interviewer that the great defining character of Australia was its inherent tolerance. "It’s inherent culture of allowing other people to be themselves. Remember with each new wave of immigrants in this country there’s been debates and concerns and they’ve all faded and they’ve all been resolved," he said.

According to him, Australia was enormously richer for all the arrivals over the decades from different parts of the world, including Indians.

"Look at the contribution of the Indian business community to Australia. So my sense is, right across this vast country of ours we celebrate the diversity and I think occasionally you’re going to have a flare up through a bit of misunderstanding. But let’ just stand back and put it into historical context. This is an enormously tolerant society and I am proud of it," he said.

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US says will support more dialogue between India, Pakistan

The United States has said that it would support more dialogue between India and Pakistan but made it clear that it had no plans to appoint a special envoy to deal specifically with the Kashmir issue.

"We would support more dialogue between the two countries," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said at his daily briefing here on Tuesday.

He was responding to a question about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech in Parliament yesterday, in which he had said that India was willing to meet Pakistan more than half-way if that country took concrete steps to dismantle terrorist infrastructure in its territory aimed at India.

Mr Kelly was also sure that US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, who begins a four-day visit to India today, would talk with Indian officials about this issue, along with many other issues that he has on his agenda.

Asked if there was any prospect about a special envoy being appointed to deal specifically with the Kashmir issue, Mr Kelly said, "No, there's---there are no plans to that effect."

Dr Singh had said yesterday that he sincerely believed that it was in India's vital interest to try again to make peace with Pakistan and hoped that the leaders of the neighbouring country would create an atmosphere in which this vision could be realised.

"If the leaders of Pakistan have the courage, the determination and the statesmanship to take this road to peace, I wish to assure them that we will meet them more than half way," he said.

He said he expected the Government of Pakistan to take strong, effective and sustained action to prevent the use of their territory for the commission of acts of terrorism in India, or against Indian interests, and use every means at their disposal to bring to justice those who have committed these crimes in the past, including the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai. "I believe that such actions will be welcomed by the people of both countries," he said.

"What is at stake is the future of one-and-a-half billion people living in South Asia. I sincerely believe it is in our vital interest therefore to try again to make peace with Pakistan. I recognise, it takes two hands to clap. There are some disturbing trends, but I do hope that the Government of Pakistan will create an atmosphere in which we can realize this vision," he said.

The Prime Minister's remarks assume great significance because India has refused to resume the composite dialogue with Pakistan unless it acts decisively against those responsible for the Mumbai attacks, which claimed more than 160 lives. India also wants Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure it says exists on Pakistani soil and which is targeted against India. In recent days, there have been media reports suggesting that India thinks it should find a way of resuming the dialogue with Pakistan.

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Peter Varghese to be new Australian envoy to India

Peter VargheseMr Peter Varghese, an Indian-Australian and the Director-General of Australia's Office of National Assessments (ONA), has been appointed as the country's new High Commissioner to India.

He will be concurrently accredited to Bhutan. He will succeed Mr John McCarthy, who has been High Commissioner in Delhi since 2004. Mr Varghese is expected to take up his new assignment in August.

The appointment was announced at a press conference here today by Australain Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith, who said Mr Varghese, an ethnic Malayali, would be "a very good High Commissioner for what is a very important relationship."

"The Government wants to take our relationship with India to the front rank of our bilateral relationships, and we look forward to High Commissioner Varghese pursuing good work in India on Australia's behalf," Mr Smith said.

The Minister also said, in response to a question, that the Australian government was taking the recent attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and other cities "very, very seriously."

"The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister as Minister for Education, and I have all condemned them absolutely. We are working very closely with the relevant state governments and also very closely with the Indian community, both in Australia and working very closely with the Indian Government through our High Commissioner, High Commissioner McCarthy, in India," he said.

Mr Smith said the high level task force which he had announced last week had met for the second time on Friday, chaired by the National Security Adviser, with participants from all of the states.

"I've spoken to Victorian Premier Brumby. And on Thursday-Friday of last week, my office had close contact with New South Wales Premier Rees's office. So we're working very closely. We're taking it very, very seriously and we condemn all of the terrible incidents which have occurred," he said.

"I note that there are reports over the weekend or overnight of further attacks. Can I say that the advice I have is that some of these suggested attacks have not been reported to police, and it is very important, where people have information or evidence or are the victims of attacks, that these are reported to the police. That's a very, very important part of the process.

I've spoken to my new Indian counterpart a week or so ago, External Affairs Minister Krishna. We are taking this very seriously and I think the Indian Government understands this. We'll continue to work closely with them," he added.

Mr Varghese's appointment comes at a time when, on the one hand, Australia's engagement with India is expanding rapidly. On the other, it is a sensitive time in the relations between the two countries because of the attacks on Indian students. More than 80,000 Indian students are estimated to be studying in Australia and the student market for Australia is said to be a billion dollar one.

Mr Smith said India is Australia's fastest growing export market, with energy and minerals resources the main drivers behind this growth. In 2007-08, India was Australia's eleventh-largest trading partner, with total trade standing at almost $14 billion. In 2008, India was its fourth-biggest merchandise export market.

The current Joint Australia-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Study is exploring the scope for building an even stronger bilateral trade and economic relationship through an FTA. Traditional strengths in the trade relationship are being complemented by new areas, most notably services such as education, he said.

Mr Smith also said that Australia and India engage closely on strategic and defence matters. "Our defence forces engage in joint exercises, particularly, but not only, maritime exercises. Military engagement occurs across the full range of activities, including ship visits, service-to-service level talks, professional exchanges, and research and development collaboration.

In 2008 Australia and India decided to step up strategic cooperation by holding annual talks between the chiefs of our defence forces, and by strengthening intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation," he said.

In other areas, the two countries have set up an Economic Policy Dialogue and have good bilateral engagement on climate change issues. There has been a series of high-level visits between the two countries.

Before taking up his assignment as Director General of the ONA, Mr Varghese was the Senior Adviser (International) to the Prime Minister. From 2002 until July 2003, Mr Varghese was a Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In 2000-02, he was Australia's High Commissioner to Malaysia. He has also served in Australian missions in Vienna (1980-83), Washington (1986-88) and Tokyo (1994).

Mr Varghese is a graduate in history from the University of Queensland and is married with one adult son.

The ONA is an independent body directly accountable to the Prime Minister. It provides all-source assessments on international political, strategic and economic developments to the Prime Minister and senior ministers in the National Security Committee of Cabinet. It is also responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of Australia’s foreign intelligence effort and the adequacy of its resourcing.

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Obama to do "truth-telling" in Cairo speech to Muslim world

President Barack Obama has said that he would tell Arabs and Israelis to stop saying one thing behind closed doors and something else publicly in his much-awaited speech to the Arab and Muslim world in Cairo tomorrow.

"We have a joke around the White House. We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working — and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East," Mr Obama said in a telephone interview about his speech with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, which was carried on the newspaper's website today.

"There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the ‘threat’ from Israel, but won’t admit it," Mr Obama said.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, left, welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama, right, on his arrival at the Royal Terminal of the King Khalid International Airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, left, welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama, right, on his arrival at the Royal Terminal of the King Khalid International Airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Similarly, he said, there were a lot of Israelis "who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution — that is in their long-term interest — but not enough folks are willing to recognize that publicly."

He said there were a lot of Palestinians who recognised that the constant incitement and negative rhetoric with respect to Israel had not delivered any benefits to their people and that they might have been better off today if they had taken a more constructive approach and sought the moral high ground.

The US President also felt there were a lot of Arab states that had not been particularly helpful to the Palestinian cause beyond a bunch of demagoguery and were not very forthcoming with money to actually help the Palestinian people.

"...there is a Kabuki dance going on constantly. That is what I would like to see broken down. I am going to be holding up a mirror and saying: ‘Here is the situation, and the U.S. is prepared to work with all of you to deal with these problems. But we can’t impose a solution. You are all going to have to make some tough decisions.’ Leaders have to lead, and, hopefully, they will get supported by their people," he told the columnist in the 20-minute interview.

"As somebody who ordered an additional 17,000 troops into Afghanistan, you would be hard pressed to suggest that what we are doing is not backed up by hard power. I discount a lot of that criticism. What I do believe is that if we are engaged in speaking directly to the Arab street, and they are persuaded that we are operating in a straightforward manner, then, at the margins, both they and their leadership are more inclined and able to work with us," he explained.

Mr Obama said that part of America's battle against extremists involved changing the hearts and minds of the people they recruited from.

"And if there are a bunch of 22- and 25-year-old men and women in Cairo or in Lahore who listen to a speech by me or other Americans and say: ‘I don’t agree with everything they are saying, but they seem to know who I am or they seem to want to promote economic development or tolerance or inclusiveness,’ then they are maybe a little less likely to be tempted by a terrorist recruiter," he said.

President Obama arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia today, on the first leg of a trip that will also take him to Egypt, Germany and France. In Riyadh, he had talks with King Abdullah today.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had said over the weekend that President Obama's speech in Cairo would be an important part of his engagement with the Muslim world, which began in his inaugural address and has continued since through various speeches, interviews and messages.

"The speech will outline his personal commitment to engagement, based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. He will discuss how the United States and Muslim communities around the world can bridge some of the differences that have divided them. He will review particular issues of concern, such as violent extremism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he will discuss new areas for partnership going forward that serve the mutual interests of our people," Mr Gibbs said.

Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Denis McDonough pointed out that Egypt was a long-time strategic ally of the US.

"It is a young -- like much of the Muslim world, itself is a young country with a burgeoning younger population that the President looked very much forward to engaging directly in this speech and in the meetings while he's there," he said.

The speech in Cairo will be held at the University of Cairo and will be co-hosted by the Al-Azhar University, one of the oldest universities in the region. Mr Obama will also pay a visit to a mosque.

"So the message the President wants to send is not different, frankly, than the one he's been sending since he was inaugurated, namely that we believe that this is an opportunity for us in the United States, who, frankly, have arrived at a place here based on many of the advances that come out of the Muslim world, be it science out of Baghdad, be it math and technology out of Al-Andalus or otherwise. The fact is that we've had a great partnership over the course of many decades. We want to get back on a shared partnership, back in a conversation that focuses on the shared values, and that's what the President will talk about in Cairo," Mr Gibbs said.

Asked if political dissidents in Egypt had been invited for the speech, Mr McDonough said invitations had gone out to "the full range of actors in Egyptian political society."

"The President looks very much forward to that audience hearing the speech. But there will be additional opportunity to engage key actors in civil society in Egypt, in addition to obviously engaging our friends in the Egyptian government," he added.

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US Spl Rep Holbrooke to Visit Pakistan

United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard C Holbrooke will visit Pakistan from June 3-5, the State Department announced here on Monday.

Mr Holbrooke will be leading a delegation of US officials from the Department of State, USAID and the Department of Defense, Mr Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman for the State Department said.

Mr Wood said Mr Holbrooke was making the trip at the request of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to assess the welfare of the people displaced by the security operations being carried out by Pakistani authorities against insurgent extremists.

While in Pakistan, Mr Holbrooke will meet with internally displaced persons and relief organisations, as well as with local and national Pakistani officials, he added.

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Burns to visit India June 10-13

William J. BurnsUnited States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J Burns will visit India from June 10-13, an official announcement said today.

Mr Burns will visit New Delhi and Mumbai during the trip, State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said.

During his visit, he would meet senior government officials and private sector leaders to discuss a broad agenda to further strengthen partnership between the US and India, Mr Wood added.

Mr Burns will be the first high-ranking US official to travel to India after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government began a second term in office late last month.

There have been reports that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit India in July, but there has been no official word on this from either side.

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Timothy J Roemer nominated as US Ambassador to India

Timothy RoemerUnited States President Barack Obama has announced his intent to nominate Mr Timothy J Roemer as the country's new Ambassador to India.

Announcing nominations to several key administration posts on Wednesday, the President said, "I am grateful that these distinguished Americans have agreed to help represent the United States and strengthen our partnerships abroad at this critical time for our nation and the world. I am confident they will advance American diplomacy as we work to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I look forward to working with them in the years and months ahead."

Mr. Roemer is President of the Center for National Policy (CNP) in Washington, D.C. Before joining the CNP, he represented the 3rd District of Indiana for six terms as a U.S. Congressman, from 1991 to 2003.

Mr Roemer served as a member of the 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan Joint Inquiry which issued a report on the terrorst attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York. He also served on the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism. He currently serves on the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Presidential Task Force on Combating the Ideology of Radical Extremism, and the National Parks Second Century Commission.

As a Distinguished Scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Mr Roemer works with Members of Congress and staff to improve public policy outcomes by teaching on the legislative branch and policy analysis.

Mr Roemer holds a B.A. from the University of California, San Diego and a M.A. and PhD. from the University of Notre Dame.

While he was in the Congress, Mr Roemer was recognised for his successful leadership on bipartisan legislation to balance the budget, reform welfare, improve the affordability of higher education and reform elementary and secondary education for schoolchildren.

He was appointed to the Intelligence Committee's Task Force on Homeland Security and Terrorism. He was the key author of the legislation in the House of Representatives to establish the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

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Obama, Manmohan agree on fighting terrorism, economic crisis

United States President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Manmohan Sngh Saturday to congratulate him on being sworn in for a second term in office and the two leaders agreed to work together to address common global challenges such as terrorism and the economic downturn.

They also agreed on the need to work together on issues such as climate change, a White House press release said.

Mr Obama also congratulated India on successfully completing the largest democratic exercise the world has ever and called it a testament to the strength of India's democracy.

The statement said the two leaders recalled their warm meeting in London on April 2, on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit, and discussed their mutual desire to strengthen India-US relations and work together to face common challenges.

President Obama also invited Dr Singh to visit Washington, the release added.

Dr Singh also reiterated his invitation to Mr Obama and his family to visit India, sources added.

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Sri Lanka assurance on devolution of powers

Three days after winning a decisive victory against the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and decimating its entire leadership, Sri Lanka today assured India that it would speed up action on devolution of powers to Tamil-majority areas of the island nation, including implementation of the 13th Amendment.

The assurance was given by Sri Lankan leaders and officials who met National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, who arrived here yesterday on a two-day visit to convey India's concerns on the evolving situation in the country.

Mr Narayanan and Mr Menon called on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and met with other senior officials, including Mr Basil Rajapakse, MP, Mr Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to President and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse. They also interacted with a number of political parties in Sri Lanka.

A statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs at the end of the visit said both sides agreed that, with the end of military operations in Sri Lanka, the time was opportune to focus attention on issues of relief, rehabilitation, resettlement and re-conciliation, including a permanent political solution in Sri Lanka.

It said that, following their agreement of October 26, 2008, both sides have been co-operating in providing humanitarian relief and assistance to IDPs in Sri Lanka. This includes medical assistance in the form of a field hospital, urgently needed medicines and medical supplies as well as food, clothing and shelter material.

According to the statement, both sides emphasized the urgent need to resettle the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in their villages and towns of habitation and to provide to them necessary basic and civic infrastructure as well means of livelihood to resume their normal lives at the earliest possible.

To this end, the Government of Sri Lanka indicated that it was their intention to dismantle the relief camps at the earliest and outlined a 180-day plan to resettle the bulk of IDPs to their original places of habitation. India committed to provide all possible assistance in the implementation of such a plan in areas such as de-mining, provision of civil infrastructure and re-construction of houses.

Both sides also emphasized the urgent necessity of arriving at a lasting political settlement in Sri Lanka. Towards this end, the Sri Lankan government indicated that it will proceed with implementation of the 13th Amendment.

"Further, the Government of Sri Lanka also intends to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties, in the new circumstances, for further enhancement of political arrangements to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka," the statement added.

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US announces $ 100 million aid for Pakistan

The United States has announced a $ 100 million humanitarian support package for Pakistan in response to a request from the government of that country for help to provide relief to people affected by the ongoing military operations against the Taliban in the Swat Valley and elsewhere.

The latest amount comes on top of almost $ 60 million that the US has provided since last August to help Pakistanis who have been affected by the conflicts, and in addition to the othe funding for Pakistan that the Obama Administration is already seeking from the Congress.

"Providing this assistance is not only the right thing to do, but we believe it is essential to global security and the security of the United States, and we are prepared to do more as the situation demands," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a press conference called at the White House Tuesday to announce the package.

Ms Clinton reiterated the US commitment ot stand by Pakistan's people and the democratically elected government there as they work to restore security in their country.

"And President Obama is determined to match our words with our actions, because Pakistan's government is leading the fight against extremists that threaten the future of their country and our collective security," she said.

Ms Clinton said that, at the same time, Pakistan is facing a major humanitarian crisis. She said about two million people had fled their homes and the Pakistani government, the militry and relief organisations were working to meet the needs of these displaced persons.

"So many are finding refuge with family members, or in schools or mosques; they are relying on the generosity of relatives and friends. And I'm confident that Pakistan's institutions and citizens will succeed in confronting this humanitarian challenge if the international community steps up and provides the support that is needed," she said.

Ms Clinton recalled the US had a history of working with the Pakistani authorities to alleviate suffering and mentioned the earthquake that struck the country in 2005 as an example. She said the US had, altogether, provided more than $ 3.4 billion since 2002 to alleviate suffering and promote economic growth, education, health and good governance in Pakistan.

She said a U.S. Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) and personnel from the US embassy in Islamabad are on the ground working with and supporting Pakistani authorities in evaluating needs for shelter, food, health, water and sanitation services. She said supplies from the US were already flowing to Pakistan. She also said that one of the guiding principles of this assistance package was that it should be more than just the delivery of supplies.

Ms Clinton said that Americans could, using their cell phones, text the word SWAT to the number 20222 and make a $ 5 contribution that would help the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provide tents, clothing, food and medicine to hundreds of thousands of affected people.

Ms Clinton said President Obama and she oped that individuals who had fled the conflict would be able to return home quickly, safely, and on a voluntary basis. "...the United States stands ready to help Pakistan's government support displaced persons as they rebuild their lives," she said.

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US tells Sri Lanka time to engage Tamils, others

The United States has welcomed the end of the fighting in Sri Lanka and said it was an opportunity for the island nation to turn the page on its past and build a country rooted in democracy, tolerance and respect for human rights.

"Now is the time for the government to engage the Tamils, Sinhalese, and other Sri Lankans to create a political arrangement that promotes and protects the rights of all Sri Lankans," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said at his daily briefing on Monday after the Sri Lanka government had announced it had won the long-drawn war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and decimated its leadership.

Mr Kelly also expressed relief that the immense loss of life and killing of innocent civilians appeared to be over.

"It is also vital for the government to provide for the needs of the 280,000 civilians now living in relief camps. Providing food, water, shelter, basic health care, and sanitation, as well as expediting their return to their homes should be a top priority for the government," he said.

He said the the focus needed to be on the very urgent short-term problem of providing for the needs of the internall displaced persons (IDPs), and then to begin the process of reconciliation of a political process that includes all of the people of Sri Lanka.

In reply to another question, Mr Kelly said it appeared that the long suffering of the Sri Lankan people is now over.

Mr Kelly also said US policy on the LTTE had been very clear. "We see them as a terrorist organization."

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Sri Lanka army says Prabhakaran's body found

Sri Lanka's army chief Gen Sarath Fonseka today said his troops had found and identified the body of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief Velupillai Prabhakaran from the scene of the battle between the army and the rebels.
The Sri Lanka Army today said that it had found the body of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran, and put these pictures on its website to substantiate its claim.
The Sri Lanka Army today said that it had found the body of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran, and put these pictures on its website to substantiate its claim.

Gen Fonseka said the body was discovered this morning. Later, Sri Lankan television telecast pictures of what it said was Prabhakaran's body and the army website also carried photographs.

The announcement came after the LTTE had earlier insisted in a statement, carried on a pro-rebel website, that its supremo was still alive.

Earlier, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed Parliament and said that the island nation had been finally been "liberated" from terrorism after 26 years of civil war.

The army had said yesterday that it had recovered the bodies of Prabhakaran's son Charles Anthony and other LTTE leaders.

Media reports quoted army officials as saying that Prabhakaran's body was found near a lagoon in the No Fire Zone this morning.

They said Prabhakaran was wearing his military uniform at the time of his death and had died of a bullet injury in his head.

"A few hours ago on Tuesday morning (19), our ground troops confirmed that they have recovered the dead body of the world’s most ruthless terrorist leader. I make this disclosure with responsibility and pleasure as millions of Sri Lankans as well as the Army would be the most delighted at this news," General Fonseka was quoted as saying on the army's website.

Prabhakaran founded the LTTE in May 1975 and was believed to be responsible for the assassination of several Sri Lankan leaders, including President Premadasa, and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

He was reputed to be one of the most feared terrorist leaders in the world and was wanted by the Interpol and the Indian police.

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Obama congratulates India on elections

United States President Barack Obama today congratulated India on its "historic national elections" which drew to a close with the declaration of results that saw the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance staging a spectacular win for a second term in office.

"By successfully completing the largest exercise of popular voting in the world, the elections have strengthened India’s vibrant democracy and upheld the values of freedom and pluralism that make India an example for us all," a White House statement said.

"While the world awaits the formation of a new government in India based on the elections result, the United States recognizes the significance of the election for the people of India, who remain the strength and foundation for India's prosperity and democracy.

"President Obama looks forward to continuing to work with the Indian government to enhance the warm partnership between our two countries," the statement added.

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US denies 2-week deadline to Pakistan for eliminating Taliban

The US State Department has denied media reports which suggested that Washington had given Islamabad two weeks to eliminate the Taliban operating out of its territory, saying it was not something that could be put into a timeline in terms of taking action.

"I’m not aware of any two-week timeline. This is not something you can put into a timeline in terms of taking action. As I said, it has to be consistent, decisive. And we just need to understand that this is not something we’re going to be able to deal with in two days, two weeks, two months," acting Department Spokesman Robert Wood said at his daily briefing here Friday.

"This is going to take time. But what’s important is, as I said the other day, a hundred and ten percent effort. And Pakistan seems willing to go in that direction, and we’ll continue to try to help them, as they move in that direction," he said.

Mr Wood said he did not know where the two-week timeframe came from but pointed out that the US had said very clearly that it believed the Pakistanis needed to take action against the extremist elements.

"And clearly, the Pakistanis are, you know, trying to do that. We’re going to be working with them, providing assistance where we can, as well as other countries around the world who believe that it’s critical to international security that we deal with the Taliban, and those extremists that are operating not only in Pakistan, but in Afghanistan as well," he said.

Mr Wood said Pakistan was doing this out of its own national security interests and the US would be there to help them.

"But it is important that they not let extremists – let me put it this way, it’s important that these extremists be dealt with. And we’re going to continue, as I said, to work with them and others. And this has been, I think, a positive last couple of days in terms of Pakistan taking action against these militants. And so – but we’re under no illusions. It’s going to take more than two days worth of actions. It’s going to take consistent, determined, and forceful action. And Pakistan seems committed to that, and we’re willing to be as helpful as we can in terms of dealing with the militants," he said.

In reply to another question, Mr Wood said he was not suprised to hear reports about minority communities being asked to pay jaziya (taxes) by the Taliban.

"I’ve heard reports about that. It doesn’t surprise me. I mean, these are ruthless killers, the Taliban. And they’ll do anything they can to upset Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s fragile democracies. And so as I said, I’ve heard these reports. They’re not surprising. This is why it’s important that we, the international community, cooperate in trying to rid this region of these extremists. And the sooner we can accomplish that mission, the better," he said.

As has already been reported, India has taken up with Pakistan the question of treatment of minorities in that country following the media reports that the Taliban had driven out Sikhs from their homes and had demanded jaziya from them in the Orakzai Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

"On seeing reports about Sikh families in Pakistan being driven out of their homes and being subject to Jaziya and other such impositions, the Government of India has taken up the question of treatment of minorities in Pakistan with the Government of Pakistan," External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said yesterday in New Delhi when asked about the reports.

The reports said the Taliban had forcibly captured three houses and ten shops belonging to Sikhs in the area after they failed to meet demands for huge amounts of protection money.

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Prometric to expand in India to handle CAT

Prometric, providers of technology-enabled testing and assessment services, today said it would expand its infrastructure in India, including people and technology, to deliver the first ever computerised version of the Common Admission Test (CAT) of the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs).

The US firm has won the exclusive $ 40 million contract from the IIMs to computerise the test that is widely regarded as the toughest entrance examination for business schools worldwide.

"To efficiently deliver the first ever computerized version of the exam to over 250,000 Indian students this fall, Prometric will accelerate plans to further build out its people, services and technology infrastructure in India," the company said in a press release here.

"In assuming responsibility for all aspects of the CAT programme, including item authoring, test development, test administration and scoring and reporting services, Prometric will add resources, including dedicated test development and support staff, in India.

"Complementing the 185 employees, test center network and other assets Prometric already operates in India, these additional new resources will provide a more powerful and rigorous means for the CAT, and any other test publishers looking at expansion in India, to leverage for growth," it said.

CAT scores are used as part of the admission process to the seven IIMs at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Lucknow, Kozhikode, Indore and Shillong as well as by scores of other management schools in India.

The computerised test will be conducted in a window of about ten days some time at the end of the calendar year, the announcement by the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore said. Traditionally, CAT used to be conducted on the third Sunday in November every year.

Prometric said candidates would be able to appear for the test in 23 cities across India where secure computer-based testing centres would be set up specially for the CAT examination.

The longer window and wider availability will provide candidates greater flexibility when choosing a testing date, time or location as well as near-ubiquitous access to testing locations. In addition, computerization of the CAT will result in faster score processing, enabling the IIMs and more than a hundred other Indian business schools that rely on the results to more quickly make their admissions decisions, the company said.

"The breadth of Prometric’s business is truly global, which means that our most valuable assets – our skilled employees, test center network, data centers and call centers – are distributed across many countries around the world; this is a huge advantage to all our clients and one they will never find with any other provider," said Michael Brannick, President and CEO of Prometric.

"Our commitment to making global infrastructure investments that support our growth strategy has not waned at all, and creates a win-win situation for us and our clients."

Prometric is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ETS and its services include test development, test delivery and data management. It delivers and administers more than seven million tests a year on behalf of 450 clients in the academic, professional, healthcare, government, corporate and information technology sectors.

Announcing the decision to computerise CAT from this year, the IIMs had said earlier this week that the decision would also lead to ease of registration process, better physical environment and test experience, and enhanced security in terms of biometric identification of candidates and video monitoring.

It said the CBT format would also improve communication between candidates and the IIMs in terms of programme information, test delivery, receipt of admit cards, and receipt of score reports.

The IIMs have been conducting CAT in paper-&-pencil format for the last 33 years. With growing student aspirations to undertake management education, the number of candidates appearing for CAT has been increasing manifold. While about 95,000 candidates took CAT in 2003, the number rose to about 250,000 in 2008, indicating a rise of a whopping 163 percent. The seven IIMs offer a total of around 1500 seats in their flagship two-year post-graduate programmes in management.

"This has resulted in severe strain on the administrative system of IIMs to conduct CAT in its existing format," the IIMs had explained in a statement.

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US backs Indian efforts to end fighting in Sri Lanka

The United States has expressed its deep concern about the plight of innocent civilians caught up in the conflict beween the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the mounting death toll and has voiced support for the efforts by India to stop the fighting.

"We call on both sides to stop fighting immediately and allow civilians to safely leave the combat zone," a White House statement said.

The statement, issued by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, called upon the Sri Lankan government to stop shelling the "safe zone" and blocking international aid groups and media from accessing those civilians who have managed to escape.

International aid workers should have access to all sites where internally displaced persons are being registered and sheltered, the statement said.  The United States is working with international partners to attempt to care for those civilians who can be reached, it said.

"We call on both sides to strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law. We are very concerned about reports of violations, and take these allegations very seriously," the statement said.

"It would compound the current tragedy if the military end of the conflict only breeds further enmity and ends hopes for reconciliation and a unified Sri Lanka in the future," the statement added.

At the State Department, acting spokesman Robert Wood also said that the US remained  extremely concerned for the safety of the remaining civilians in the no-fire zone.

Although tens of thousands of people have fled the area, numerous people have been killed, and tens of thousands of additional civilians remain in the conflict area, he said at his daily briefing on Friday, calling on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to end hostilities.

Taking note of the visit of National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Colombo yesterday, Mr Wood said, "We support Indian efforts to stop the fighting."
 
He said the co-chair countries in the G-8 were working together closely to find a way to end the fighting.

"The Tamil Tigers must stop holding civilians and stop putting them in harm’s way. We call on the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and surrender to a third party. The international community needs to provide assistance to a large number of displaced persons. The international community should be prepared to play a role to end the fighting," he said.

Mr Wood also said that the US fully supported the UN Secretary General's decision to send a UN humanitarian team to the no-fire zone, as the Secretary General’s envoy Vijay Nambiar and President Rajapaksa discussed and agreed to last week.

He urged the Sri Lankan government to allow the team into the no-fire zone as soon as possible. He also urged it to allow critical supplies to pass more rapidly through military checkpoints, share its registration information of internally displaced persons with the UN, identify additional shelter sites, and authorize continued medical evacuations from the no-fire zone.

Mr Wood said in reply to a question that the US was in touch with the government of India on this issue.

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US calls for strong action by Pakistan against Taliban

The United States has said that it very concerned about developments in Pakistan and called on the government in Islamabad and the military to take strong and decisive action to deal with the extremists who threaten the country and the region.

Acting State Department Spokesman Robert Wood said that President Barack Obama had had a meeting on Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special Representative Richard Holbrooke on the developments.

"We are in close touch with the Government of Pakistan. We’re going to work with the Government of Pakistan to halt the advances of the Taliban. And, you know, as I said, we’re trying to get more details about what actually is going on there," Mr Wood said at his daily briefing on Friday.

The spokesman said the situation on the ground in Pakistan was very difficult. "We have – we, the international community, have to help Pakistan meet these threats," he said.

At the same time, he stressed that it was important that Pakistan took the measures necessary to deal with the threat it faced.

"And as I said yesterday, they need to take very decisive action to deal with these elements. These elements are a threat to not only Pakistan’s internal security, but to its neighbours. And I’m focusing specifically on Afghanistan.

"And so, you know, we’re going to continue to push and we’re going to continue to work with the government. But I think that the government realizes the threat that it’s under, the challenges that it faces, and, as I said, needs to take very strong, decisive action right now to deal with that threat," he said.

Mr Wood said the Pakistani government recognised the threat it faced. "What we now need to see are steps from the government and the military to deal with that threat, and we’ll just have to see as the days go by," he said.

Asked if such actions meant military action against the Taliban, he said, "What I’m saying is the government and the military need to take the steps necessary to deal with that threat. You know, Pakistan’s a sovereign government. It’s dealing with, as I said, a very strong, internal threat. It needs to take the measures that it feels is necessary to deal with that threat."

In reply to a question whether there might be another peace agreement by the Pakistani government with the Taliban, Mr Wood said violent extremists needed to be confronted.

"And that’s not just in Pakistan, but that’s in other places around the world. So that will be a decision on the part of the Pakistani Government to make. But we are strongly encouraging Pakistan to take these – to take steps necessary to deal with the threat. So – yes."

Asked if the US had any confidence in the Pakistan government's ability and willingness to take those steps, he said, "Look, the government realizes what it’s up against. And we’ve had very good conversations with the Government of Pakistan over the last several weeks. But obviously, in recent days, there has been an increased threat. We’ve seen what the Taliban has been doing. The government needs to take action. And we’ll have to see in the coming days what the government actually does to deal with the problem."

When asked if that reply meant there was no confidence, he said, "It’s not a question of our confidence or anybody else’s confidence. It’s a question of the Pakistani Government dealing with the threat that it faces, a very strong internal threat. And this threat, as the Secretary said, is also one that impacts our security interests. So what’s important is what the government does, not about whether one country or another has trust or not. That’s really not the issue here."

Mr Wood said, in reply to another question, that the US would do everything it could to help Pakistan stem the advances of the Taliban. "But those advances are very concerning to all of us."

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Two more Indian Americans to join Obama team

US President Barack Obama has announced that an Indian American, Aneesh Chopra, will join his administration as Chief Technology Officer.

Separately, the White House announced that Rajiv Shah will serve as Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, United States Department of Agriculture.

Mr Obama used his weekly radio address to announce the appointment of Chopra, currently Virginia's Secretary of Technology, and that of Jeffrey Zients, a CEO, management consultant and entrepreneur, as Chief Performance Officer.

Chopra has previously worked as Managing Director with the Advisory Board Company, leading the firm's Financial Leadership Council and the Working Council for Health Plan Executives.

Shah is the Director of Agricultural Development in the Global Development Programme for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where he manages its Agricultural Development programme – including grant-making portfolios in science and technology, farmer productivity, market access, and policy and statistics – with the goal of helping the world’s poor lead healthy and productive lives.

Shah joined the Foundation in 2001 and previously served as the Foundation's Director of Strategic Opportunities and Deputy Director of Policy and Finance for Global Health. In these roles, he helped develop and launch the Foundation's Global Development Programme and the International Finance Facility for Immunization – an effort that raised more than $5 billion for child immunization and hopes to save more than five million lives around the world.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Shah was the health care policy advisor on the Gore 2000 presidential campaign and a member of Governor Ed Rendell's transition committee on health. Shah is the co-founder of Health Systems Analytics and Project IMPACT for South Asian Americans.

In addition, he has served as a policy aide in the British Parliament and worked at the World Health Organization.

Currently, Shah serves on the boards of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the Seattle Public Library, and the Seattle Community College District. Shah earned his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and Master of Science in health economics at the Wharton School of Business.

He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the London School of Economics and has published articles on health policy and global development. In 2007, he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

According to sources, Chopra's appointment does not need confirmation by the US Senate, but Shah's does, though it is exected to be a formality, given his record so far.

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US calls for end to hostilities in Sri Lanka

The United States has expressed deep concern about the fighting in Sri Lanka and has called upon the government and the military of the island-nation and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to immediately stop hostilities until the more than 140,000 civilians in the conflict area are safely out.

"The United States government is deeply concerned about the current danger to civilian lives and the dire humanitarian situation created by the fighting in the Mullaittivu area in Sri Lanka," US State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said at his daily briefing here Thursday.

"We call upon the government and military of Sri Lanka, and the Tamil Tigers to immediately stop hostilities until the more than 140,000 civilians in the conflict area are safely out," he said.

Mr Wood said both sides must immediately return to a humanitarian pause and both must respect the right of free movement of those civilian men, women and children trapped by the fighting.

"The United States calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to assist its Tamil citizens by halting shelling of the safe zone, permitting international monitors to ensure the safe exit of the civilians," he said.

Mr Wood said the Sri Lankan government should also enforce international humanitarian standards in camps for the internally displaced persons, grant visas to international aid groups and permit entry into Sri Lanka of international monitors and media access to those camps.

"The Sri Lankan government, as the legitimate sovereign power, has before it an opportunity to put an end to this lengthy conflict," he said.

The spokesman said a durable and lasting peace would only be achieved through a political solution that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankan communities.

"Further killing, particularly killing of civilians, will not end the conflict and will stain any eventual peace. We urge the Sri Lankan government to employ diplomacy to permit a peaceful outcome of this conflict. We call on the Sri Lankan government to put forward a proposal now to engage Tamils who do not espouse violence or terrorism, and to develop power sharing arrangements so that lasting peace and reconciliation can be achieved," he added.

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Peter Burleigh is new US Charge d’ Affaires in India

Mr A. Peter Burleigh has assumed duties as the new Charge d’Affaires of the United States Mission in India, a statement issued by the US Embassy here said.
Peter Burleigh

Ambassador Burleigh’s interim appointment by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reflects the U.S. Government’s emphasis on assuring highest-level representation and continuity in U.S. Indian relations, it said.

Mr Burleigh’s substantial diplomatic experience and many years in South Asia will provide leadership of the U.S. Mission in India and continue to nurture the important bilateral relationship until a permanent Ambassador is named in the months ahead, it said.

Mr Burleigh is a career U.S. Foreign Service officer who served as Ambassador and Deputy Representative of the United States to the United Nations before he retired after 33 years of service in August 2000. Prior to his U.N. post, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives (1995-1997).

Ambassador Burleigh held a number of senior positions at the State Department and served in United States embassies in Nepal, Bahrain, and India, as well as Sri Lanka.

He received his undergraduate degree from Colgate University, served in the Peace Corps (1963-1965) in Nepal, doing community development work in the far west of that country, and spent a year on a Fulbright scholarship in Nepal.

Mr Burleigh speaks Bengali, Hindi, Nepali, and Sinhalese. Since January, 2004, he has been living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and serving as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Miami, the release added.

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Obama, Manmohan to meet on April 2 in London

Obama will meet PM Manmohan Singh for the first time on April 2 in London on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, the White House announced on Wednesday.

United States President Barack Obama will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first time on April 2 in London on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, the White House announced on Wednesday.

The meeting with Dr Singh is among the few bilateral meetings that President Obama is scheduled to have during his London trip.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the President would meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Queen Elizabeth during his stay in London.

On April 1, he is due to meet the Presidents of China and Russia. On April 2, apart from Dr Singh, he is scheduled to meet the South Korean President, Mr Gibbs said.

President Obama and Dr Singh are, among other things, are expected to discuss the fight against terrorism and the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mr Gibbs said the President was looking forward to working in concert with the G20 leders to get the world economy moving again.

"And I think what you'll see come out of this summit will be an agreement on further evaluating what efforts need to be taken to meet the drop in global demand. I think you'll see the President talk about -- and there will be some broad agreement on a changing of the rules of the road and financial regulation," he said.

"And lastly, I think you've already seen agreement among many of the nations that are going to be involved in the G20 to look for ways at stimulating export growth that we've seen pull back considerably in this global recession and how that has affected and impacted developing nations most of all -- what that means for each individual countries are exports and real jobs.

"And so I think the President looks forward to that. I think the President believes that what will come out of this will be broad agreement among the G20 on the steps that we have to take to get our economy moving again," Mr Gibbs added.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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