New Delhi: US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in India Sunday on a three-day visit for the fourth India-US Strategic Dialogue, his first visit to this country after assuming charge of the State Department in February. The visit is the first major high-level engagement between the two sides in US President Barack Obama's second innings and will seek to dispel misgivings about stagnation in ties.
It will see him hold discussions with India's External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on all aspects of their bilateral ties, including on defence cooperation, and will seek to give renewed momentum to the relationship with a country that Washington sees as a strategic partner in Asia.
This will also be Kerry's first meeting with Khurshid who took over last year as external affairs minister. The India-US Strategic Dialogue, launched in 2009 is a forum to discuss the gamut of US-India cooperation on bilateral and regional issues.
Ahead of his visit, Kerry issued a short video message terming the dialogue a critical ongoing conversation between the two countries. He also said that the US welcomes India as a rising power and backs its inclusion as a permanent member of a reformed and expanded UN Security Council.
"As President Obama has said, the friendship between our two nations is one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century," Kerry said in the message.
A group of U.S. senators on Thursday wrote Kerry urging him to push New Delhi to protect US business interests, including recent court decisions on life-saving drugs. Both sides would also discuss India's nuclear liability law, which US suppliers are not happy with.
Vikram Doraiswami, Joint Secretary (Americas) in the external affairs ministry, said India is "more than willing to engage in explaining our law to anybody who has specific queries.. We have nothing to hide about our law."
Afghanistan, the drawdown of international forces from that country and the US proposal to hold talks with the Taliban would also be on the agenda.
Doraiswami said India would be "interested to listen to the US since they are one of the lead players in this process as to what is happening over the last few days and their current engagements there, to compare notes with them on what we understand of what is happening. Definitely it is on our agenda."
India would also take up with the US side its concerns on US data mining. India and the US have a cyber security dialogue, helmed by their National Security Advisers. Doraiswami said the Kerry visit was "certainly an opportunity for us to take up all issues on our agenda with them".
On defence cooperation talks, Doraiswami said the "India-US defence relationship is very much on the agenda and that will include conversations on the Defence Technology Initiative (DTI)."
Commenting on India-US ties, strategic analyst C Uday Bhaskar told IANS: "In Obama II, there is a sense of stasis as far as India-US relations go. The Kerry visit should provide some traction. But, there does not appear to be the same degree of resonance on the Indian side as the UPA-II is on its last lap and there does not seem to be much will on this side. More importantly, the current US overtures to Taliban has resurrected many of India's deepest anxieties that when it comes to India's abiding security interests the US again makes the same kind short term of Faustian bargain."
Kerry arrives Sunday afternoon. In the evening he will address a gathering at India Habitat Centre on the US-India Strategic Partnership. On Monday, he meets Khurshid for the dialogue, after which both will hold a press conference. He will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday. He leaves Tuesday.