New Delhi, June 24 (IANS) The US sought to allay India’s concerns on its proposed talks with the Taliban and asked New Delhi to play a key role in Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential elections, as US Secretary of State John Kerry and Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid met here Monday for their annual bilateral strategic dialogue.
Kerry’s visit, the first to India since taking over in February, also saw the two sides discuss boosting business and defence ties and implementing the stalled Indo-US civil nuclear deal.
Addressing the media in Hyderabad House after the fourth round of the Strategic Partnership Dialogue, Kerry said the significant representation on his team, which includes Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, was a reflection of the high importance the US placed on its ties with India.
He said to keep the momentum going, US Vice President Joe Biden would be visiting India in late July
Acknowledging India’s significant role in Afghanistan and as the world’s largest democracy, Kerry also said New Delhi could play a key role in Afghanistan’s presidential elections next year to ensure the polls are transparent, accessible, accountable, free and fair.
Kerry, who is on a three-day visit to India, had on Sunday first proposed that India could play a “critical role” in the Afghan elections in April.
On US’ proposed talks with Taliban, which India has said should be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”, Kerry said that the US would “consult very closely with India and with others in the region”.
He said that James Dobbins, the new special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who is to lead the US side in the talks, would be in India Wednesday.
Kerry said they would proceed with the talks only if it is an Afghan-led process and the negotiations would be led by the Afghan High Peace Council.
The conditions laid down by the US are that the Taliban have to disassociate with the Al Qaeda, and that the rights of minorities and women should be respected. “That is not going to change,” he said.
Khurshid said Kerry had assured that “none of the concerns of India will be overlooked” in the talks.
Kerry also wanted India to use its good ties with Iran to persuade Tehran over its nuclear programme.
He said the US “completely understands the relationship India has with Iran” and also “appreciates India” for trying to reduce its dependency on Iranian oil following threats of sanctions.
The US cyber-snooping also figured in their talks, with Kerry saying that there was enormous amount of “misinformation and misunderstanding” on the issue and that the US would “proudly” defend the civil liberties of the US, India and other countries of the world.
Kerry also called for “impediments” to doing business with India to be removed and noted that India-US economic cooperation had grown five-fold in the past five years and was poised to surpass $100 billion.
“We can do even more, we can break down trade and investment barriers,” he said,..
Kerry also said that the US and India were committed to “fully implement” the civil nuclear deal and that US’ Westinghouse Electric and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) were to arrive at a common agreement “by September this year” for the first US reactor in India.
Both sides also discussed the Bilateral Investment Protection Agreements (BIPA), aimed to deepen bilateral economic ties. The last round of talks was held in June 2012.
They also discussed the issue of US’ bringing out a new immigration law, which might adversely impact Indian IT companies. Khurshid said India has communicated the matter and the US has promised to do whatever possible. He clarified that it is not an immigration issue but concerns work permits.