Clinton in India to strengthen ties

MUMBAI: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in India Friday hoping to deepen strategic ties with an emerging player on the world stage in security, trade, arms control and climate change.

Her first stop in the country's financial and entertainment capital Mumbai, includes meetings with key business leaders, educational professionals and a women's group, as well as leading Bollywood actor Aamir Khan.

In her maiden trip to the South Asian nation as Washington's chief diplomat, Clinton will also pay tribute to the 166 people who died in last year's Islamist militant attacks on the city.

She heads to the capital New Delhi Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna before flying to Thailand to lead the US delegation at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) talks.

Clinton said this week that President Barack Obama's administration was committed to strengthening ties with India's new Congress-led government and saw the world's biggest democracy as a major regional and global player.

In a front-page article in the Times of India newspaper Friday, she praised India's recent economic success and emphasised the two countries' shared interests and values and already close ties in medicine, finance and education.

Closer cooperation was vital to tackle global security threats, nuclear proliferation and climate change, as well as opening up trade and new markets, she wrote.

"I hope a new era of stronger cooperation between India and the United States will be one of the signature accomplishments of our new governments," she added. "The world has a lot riding on our cooperation."

Ties between Washington and New Delhi were frosty during the Cold War and the two countries were at loggerheads over the latter's decision in 1998 to test an atom bomb and gatecrash the elite club of nuclear-armed nations.

Relations have been hit more recently by sharp differences on the Doha round of trade liberalisation talks, with India urging the United States and others to return to the table rather than wait for the global economic crisis to ease.

Obama is keen to build on ties which were transformed last year when his predecessor George W. Bush and Singh signed a pact opening up sales of civilian nuclear technology to India for the first time in three decades.

Clinton's visit could see an announcement of the two locations India has chosen for US firms to build multi-billion-dollar nuclear power plants, aides said this week.

India's refusal to sign the international non-proliferation treaty (NPT) has hung over the deal but Clinton wrote in the Times of India that they were still committed.

New Delhi signed an inspections agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency in February for its civilian nuclear reactors, has condemned North Korean nuclear tests and destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile.

"We hope to build on this progress and work together to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime," Clinton wrote in the article.

Clinton said she was also looking for "common ground" on efforts to tackle climate change before a UN summit in Copenhagen in December to agree targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts.

India, like fellow developing heavyweight China, has refused to commit to cuts in the new treaty until developed nations, particularly the United States, present sufficient targets of their own.