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Clinton Sees Progress on Asia Tour

08 May 2012

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US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton (L) meets with United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi

AFP

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday wraps up a tour of Asia dominated by thorny disputes, as she sees signs of progress in working through problems with emerging powers China and India, reports AFP.

Clinton's week-long trip was dominated by a crisis in China over dissident Chen Guangcheng, who took refuge in the US embassy in Beijing, and ended in India where usually friendly US ties have been tested by disagreement on Iran.

Clinton, who meets Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna on Tuesday before returning to Washington, has been pressing India to buy less from Iran as a way to pressure the Islamic regime over its contested nuclear programme.

India has bristled at threatened US sanctions against countries that keep buying oil from Iran, in one of the most open feuds between the world's two largest democracies since they began to move closer in the late 1990s.

But Indian companies have been quietly reducing their purchases, with US officials voicing hope that pressure on the marketplace will work even if the government publicly must reject what it sees as foreign diktats.

Clinton dismissed talk that ties had soured. She pointed to shared values, repeating the US mantra that its relationship with India will be one of the "defining partnerships of the 21st century."

"Two great countries cannot possibly agree on everything," Clinton told students in the eastern Indian metropolis of Kolkata on Monday.

"But we will discuss and air every single issue. And I think that's the way you should develop a relationship. So I'm very confident about the relationship going forward," she said.

Clinton was in New Delhi to prepare for the US-India Strategic Dialogue, held each year since 2010, which will take place next month in Washington. In Beijing, Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner took part in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue with China.

While such formal meetings may make non-diplomats' eyes glaze over, US officials are convinced that such dialogues have allowed progress by giving a way for other nations to address the full range of issues with Washington.

"We talk about everything. Nothing is off the table," Clinton said.

US officials said privately that they could not have envisioned reaching a solution with China over Chen without forging relations with Chinese leaders through the annual dialogue and other such settings.

Chen, one of China's best-known activists who was blinded by an illness in his infancy, riled authorities by exposing forced abortions and sterilisations under the one-child policy. He had spent four years in jail before going under house arrest, where he said he and his family suffered severe beatings.

Days ahead of Clinton's visit, Chen dramatically fled to the US embassy. US officials negotiated a deal under which Chen would study at a university and Chinese authorities would promise his safety.

Reaching the Chen deal in the midst of top-level talks "showed how much the relationship between the two countries has changed so we can have these kind of conversations," a senior US official said after the initial negotiations.

But some US lawmakers and activists voiced strong concern over the deal, questioning why the United States would take China at its word over Chen's safety and accusing President Barack Obama's administration of caring more about relations with Beijing.

After speaking with activists and his family from a Beijing hospital, Chen said that he no longer felt safe in China. US officials raced back into talks and secured a second deal in which they said China would let Chen leave soon to study in the United States.

The US relationship with India is much friendlier than that with China. But US officials have also been eager to broaden dialogue with India, with Clinton meeting Monday in Kolkata with Mamata Banerjee, seen as a rising star.

Tags: News, World, Featured, Clinton, PROGRESS, ASIA TOUR

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