NEW YORK - US President George W. Bush met for the first time with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here on Tuesday and agreed to push for expanded Defence cooperation as a key component of future ties.
The two men, here for the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, noted that relations “had never been as close as they were at present” and set the direction for further development of the India-US strategic partnership, a White House statement said.
“Expanded Defence cooperation was perceived as an integral aspect of the expanding ties,” it said.
Bush and Singh exchanged pleasantries at the start of their talks at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.
“I’ve really been looking forward to meeting the prime minister,” Bush said. “He’s the leader of a great country and the leader of a friend of the United States and I’m proud you’re here, sir.”
Singh, an Oxford-educated economist whose left-leaning government took office in May, said he was confident that recent progress in the relationship -- including last week’s US decision to lift export controls on equipment for nuclear facilities in India -- would only improve.
“I’m very, very happy to be in this land of opportunity that the United States is,” he said. “Under your distinguished leadership, our two countries’ relations have grown in diverse ways, but I do believe that the best is yet to come.”
Ahead of his arrival in New York, Singh had said he wanted to discuss with Bush ways to bring to US-India relations “greater content, particularly in the economic and high technology fields.”
On Friday, the United States agreed to lift the nuclear export controls after the Indians assured US officials they would address American non-proliferation concerns.
The move was the latest easing of sanctions imposed on New Delhi after it declared itself a nuclear power in 1998.
Bush and Singh welcomed the move, describing it as “the beginning of a new era of cooperation and trust” between the two countries.
Those sanctions resulted in a freeze on exchanges in nuclear and other high-tech sectors such as “dual-use technology” which finds applications in both civilian and military use.
Along with lifting the controls, Washington said it would ease export licensing policies to expand bilateral cooperation in commercial space programs.
The deal was the first phase under the “Next Steps In Strategic Partnership With India” agreed in January between Bush and Singh’s predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Bush and Singh also stressed importance on working closely in the war against terrorism and in combating proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, the White House said.
They agreed that stronger bilateral partnership would enhance global security and prosperity.