Ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W Bush next week, Washington has agreed to lift export controls on equipment for nuclear facilities to India and liberalise high-tech trade, including those related to space science.
US export licensing policies will be eased to foster cooperation in commercial space programmes and certain exports to power plants at safeguarded nuclear facilities, a joint statement titled 'The Next Steps in Strategic Partnership between India and the United States' said yesterday.
The first phase of this partnership was concluded yesterday following two-days of intensive talks between External Affairs Secretary Shyam Saran and senior US officials in Washington. The joint statement described the agreement as "major progress."
"The United States and India announced today major progress in the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) initiative. Implementation of the NSSP will lead to significant economic benefit for both countries and improve regional and global security," it said.
"The United States and India will continue to move forward under the NSSP, and have a joint implementation group for this purpose. The progress announced today is only the first phase of this important effort, which is a significant part of transforming the strategic relationship," the joint statement said.
Saran pointed out that the agreement is a "very important one" and "we're very happy to have this on the eve of the meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh."
The External Affairs Secretary expressed confidence that the liberalisation of trade in space will be followed in the next stage by such action in the civilian nuclear field. He anticipated there will be several stages, going step by step as the new relationship progresses.
Saran, who met several American officials such as Stephen Hadley, Deputy National Security Adviser and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Richard Lugar among others, said he expects the second stage of the Next Step in Strategic Partnership "will be focused perhaps a little more on the nuclear side."
The liberalised licensing regime, he said, would make very clear to Indian entities both in the public and private sectors what precisely is expected of them in terms of meeting certain licensing conditions.
"The Indo-US relationship fits in very well in terms of what we are looking at for India's economic future. There is in fact a great deal that the two countries can do together. We have found there is a very strong interest in the United States to participate in this broad new phase of our relationship", Saran added.
The Joint statement said in January 2004, the United States and India agreed to expand cooperation in three specific areas: civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programmes, and high-technology trade.
In addition, the two countries agreed to expand our dialogue on missile defence. These areas of cooperation are designed to progress through a series of reciprocal steps that build on each other," it said.
"Since January, the two governments have worked closely together to conclude Phase One of the NSSP. This has included implementation of measures to address proliferation concerns and ensure compliance with U.S. export controls," it said.
These initiatives have enabled the US to make modifications to US export licensing policies that will foster cooperation in commercial space programmes and certain exports to power plants at safeguarded nuclear facilities.
These modifications, including removing the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Headquarters from the Department of Commerce Entity List, are fully consistent with U.S. Government nonproliferation laws, obligations and objectives, it said.
Meanwhile, on the political front, US officials fully shared the Indian view that breaking Musharraf's pledges, there is continued infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan from across the Line of Control into Kashmir. Indian sources said they expect the US to continue its pressure on Musharraf to end this nefarious activity.
Musharraf, while denying there is continued infiltration, has, in an interview to The Washington Post, left for himself an alibi by saying there is no way movement across the LoC can be stopped by Pakistan.