- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2012

The U.S. wants India to end its dependence on Iranian oil and train Afghan security forces as it seeks to deepen its relationship with a nation it considers a linchpin of its new defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific region.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will co-chair the third strategic dialogue in Washington on Wednesday.

India’s oil imports have been a source of frustration in Washington as the U.S. pressures Iran to dissuade it from developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.

Mrs. Clinton on Monday exempted India and six other countries from sanctions, noting that they had “significantly reduced their volume of crude oil purchases from Iran.”

In March, Mrs. Clinton exempted 10 European nations and Japan from sanctions.

A top priority during the U.S.-India strategic talks will be Afghanistan, as a NATO deadline to withdraw all its combat troops from that country by the end of 2014 draws near.

“Any discussion of our strategic ties must begin with Afghanistan,” Robert Blake, assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Thursday.

The U.S. wants India to play a bigger role training Afghan security forces.

“There is a recognition that the Afghan security forces can benefit from training inside India,” U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell said at the Center for American Progress on Friday.

India has committed more than $2 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since 2001. It helped build the parliament building in Kabul, is building roads, training Afghan officials and will invest billions of dollars to develop the Hajigak iron ore deposit 60 miles west of Kabul.

India and Afghanistan also signed a strategic partnership agreement last fall.

“We are doing the best we can in the circumstances,” said Ronen Sen, a former Indian ambassador to the U.S. “We could have done more if transit facilities had not been denied by Pakistan.”

Pakistan, which has fought three wars with India since independence from Britain in 1947, is suspicious of India’s role in Afghanistan.

“If there is not some understanding reached between Pakistan and India, there will be no long-term stability in Afghanistan,” said Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. “India fully recognizes that at some point India and Pakistan must find a way to discuss Afghanistan’s future and each country’s mutual interests and suspicions of the actions of the other.”

The U.S. and India are also in talks to finalize a bilateral investment treaty that would accelerate investment flows, create jobs, and generate growth.

However, economic reforms in India have stalled.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the role of finance minister in the early 1990s, was the architect of his nation’s economic reforms.

“We are hopeful to see that Manmohan Singh return and open up markets, retail markets, banking markets, infrastructure opportunities for U.S. businesses so they are not discouraged from competing for infrastructure projects like current law often does in India,” said Timothy Roemer, who was the U.S. ambassador to India until April.

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