WASHINGTON, US (AFP) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has committed to working for a "dramatic expansion" in ties with India, calling it one of the few nations the new US administration views as a global partner.
Addressing business leaders in Washington on Wednesday, the top US diplomat confirmed she would go to India next month to build a relationship between the world?s two largest democracies she dubbed "US-India 3.0."
"We see India as one of a few key partners worldwide who will help us shape the 21st century," Clinton told the US-India Business Council.
Clinton said both she and President Barack Obama sought "a dramatic expansion in our common agenda and a greater role for India in solving global challenges."
She said the United States sensed an opportunity after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an advocate of free markets and closer US ties, won a convincing new election mandate.
"I hope that an expanded partnership between the US and India will be one of the signature accomplishments of both new governments in both countries, and I do plan to make that a personal priority," she said.
She listed climate change, Afghanistan and science as areas for new US-India cooperation. She also said the United States hoped to start negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty with India.
Some Indian commentators had griped that Obama ignored India early in his term, despite high-profile diplomacy with fellow Asian giant China and a new focus on stabilizing India?s historic adversary Pakistan.
India and the United States had uneasy relations during the Cold War when New Delhi tilted toward the Soviet Union. Relations began to warm at the end of Bill Clinton?s presidency, after a row over India?s nuclear tests in 1998.
Former president George W. Bush cited India as one of his key foreign-policy achievements after he negotiated a deal that provides New Delhi with civilian nuclear technology despite its refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The nuclear accord was unpopular with some lawmakers in Obama?s Democratic Party, who said it sent the wrong signal to nations such as Iran and North Korea.
But Clinton said the Obama administration was "fully committed" to implementing the deal, which she hailed for having "removed the final barrier to broader cooperation between us."
She voiced hope that the treaty can "also serve as the foundation of a productive partnership on non-proliferation."
Clinton steered clear of mentioning Kashmir, the Himalayan territory divided between India and Pakistan. Obama soon after his election triggered a furor in India by suggesting the United States could help on Kashmir, which New Delhi considers a domestic issue.
But Clinton welcomed Singh's latest bid to reach a lasting peace with Pakistan, which has fought three full-fledged wars with India since their separation at birth in 1947.
?As Pakistan now works to take on the challenge of terrorists in its own country, I am confident that India as well as the United States will support those efforts," she said.
In a sign of continuing differences between the two independent-minded nations, the US government's watchdog on religious freedom on Wednesday voiced disappointment that India refused to grant it visas to look at communal unrest.
The Indian embassy declined comment. Religious violence is an extremely touchy issues in secular but Hindu-majority India, which has witnessed deadly riots targeting the Christian and Muslim minorities in recent years.
Separately, US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke nudged India to further liberalize its economy and to step up enforcement of copyright laws.
"US businesses need assurances that when they come to India, they'll be operating in a secure and reliable environment for intellectual property," Locke told he US-India Business Council.
But Locke hailed soaring trade between the two countries which has doubled since 2004 to more than 43 billion dollars a year.