US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touched down in New Delhi on Monday night to begin a two-day visit during which India and the US will hold their second strategic dialogue to expand counter-terror cooperation and seek to fasten implementation of their landmark civil nuclear deal.
Clinton, who is coming to India for the second time as President Barack Obama's Secretary of State, was warmly received at the airport by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, India's ambassador to the US Meera Shankar and senior officials.
Clinton's special flight, which was supposed to land at 8.40 p.m., touched down an hour late as it took off late from Athens, sources said.
She will co-chair the second strategic dialogue with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on Tuesday before she heads to Chennai, India's southern city which is becoming a hub for American investment.
She will also call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Clinton's visit takes place barely a week after the triple bombings in Mumbai that killed 19 people and injured over 131. Unlike on earlier such occasions, India has eschewed pointing finger at elements from Pakistan linking them to the blasts. However, terror networks that are active in Pakistan are expected to figure in the discussions.
At the second strategic dialogue on Tuesday, India and the US will discuss an entire gamut of issues including strategic cooperation, counter-terrorism, energy and climate change, education, science and technology, health and defence, officials said.
India and the US are likely to sign key pacts in the areas of cyber security and civil aviation after the talks, said sources.
"The depth of the US-India Strategic Dialogue demonstrates the United States' strong support for India as an important actor on the world stage," a statement from Clinton's office said before the visit which is expected to expand the US' trade ties with India, a $1.6 trillion economy which has fared well in the aftermath of global recession.
With the July 13 Mumbai blasts putting the focus on increased security cooperation, India is likely to seek from the US assistance in probing the bombings. It's not yet clear what kind of cooperation India may want from the US on this.
Top US counter-terrorism officials, including US Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and Deputy Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security Jane Holl Lute are among those accompanying Clinton to India.
The Indian delegation, headed by Krishna, would include Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Adviser to the Prime Minister Sam Pitroda, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, Foreign Secretary-designate Ranjan Mathai, the secretaries of home, commerce and environment ministries. Nehchal Sandhu, director, Intelligence Bureau, will also participate in the discussions.
Implementing the landmark nuclear deal and fresh complications arising from the new guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group which deny access to enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies to countries which have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are set to figure in the discussions.
India is also expected to seek a fresh assurance from the US that the new NSG guidelines will not impinge on Washington's commitment to implement full civilian nuclear cooperation, that includes the transfer of ENR technologies, to New Delhi.
Besides bilateral issues, the volatile situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region will be an important part of the discussions.
Clinton is expected to brief India on its negotiations with a section of the so-called moderate Taliban and assuage New Delhi's worries that the reconciliation will give Islamabad an upper hand in shaping a future dispensation in Kabul that may be hostile to Indian interests. Clinton is also expected to address India's concerns arising from the phased drawdown of 33,000 US troops from Afghanistan by next year which New Delhi fears could led to the re-emergence of a hostile Taliban.
Clinton is expected to underline India's critical role in Afghanistan's reconstruction, said sources.
India is expected to brief the US on the forthcoming foreign minister-level talks it will have with Pakistan later this month.
Clinton will also go to Chennai on Wednesday, the hub of high-value American investments. She heads to Bali on Thursday morning to attend the meeting of foreign ministers of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).