Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed regional security and economic issues with top Indian officials Tuesday in New Delhi on the first leg of a South Asian trip that will also take him to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The talks also included the issue of the Abdul Qadeer Khan nuclear proliferation ring in Pakistan.
Tensions between India and Pakistan have subsided markedly since Mr. Powell's last visit in 2002 -- to the point where public attention in both countries this week is riveted on a tour in Pakistan of India's national cricket team.
But the South Asian situation none-the-less figured in the talks here, including the implications of the nuclear weapons technology export operation revealed last month in the public confession of Pakistan's leading nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan.
Pakistan is the next stop on Mr. Powell's brief tour of the region. He told reporters at a news conference with his Indian counterpart, Foreign Minister Jashwant Sinha, that the United States is pleased with the information it has gotten thus far from Pakistan, but wants to be sure that the proliferation ring is being completely broken up and uprooted:
Mr. Powell said,"With respect to who else was involved in that network, if anyone within past Pakistan governments or anything that might be taking place of a contemporary nature, I will speak to President Musharraf about this. I am confident that he is as determined as we all should be to get to the heart of this, to make sure there are no residual elements of this network left. There's much more work to be done but I think we've had a real breakthrough with what Dr. Khan has acknowledged, and our ability to roll up different parts of the network. But we can't be satisfied until the entire network is gone, branch and root."
Mr. Khan has admitted selling weapons hardware and know-how to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The Indian foreign affairs chief, Mr. Sinha, said his government and the United States have a shared concern about nuclear secrets falling into the hands of terrorists, and that India will consider a possible role in the U-S-led Proliferation Security Initiative:
Mr. Sinha said,"We had a discussion on proliferation and non proliferation. And I think there is a shared concern that the nuclear black market that had existed, and the danger of nuclear devices falling in the wrong hands, in the hands of non-state actors, of terrorists. And this is a shared concern. We also had a discussion on the proliferation initiative, and as Secretary Powell mentioned to you, we have decided that we'll discuss it in greater depth at the level of officials of the two countries, with a view of finding out how India could engage in this whole process."
Both Mr. Sinha and Secretary Powell agreed that U.S.-Indian bilateral relations are in excellent shape and perhaps at a historic high point.
However, they acknowledged potential trouble stemming from two countries' burgeoning trade -- including so-called "outsourcing" -- the flow of service jobs like telephone computer trouble shooting operations - from the United States to India.
The matter has become an election-year issue in the United States with some members of Congress threatening legislation to try to curb the practice.
Mr. Powell, in his comments here, said outsourcing was part of a "natural progression" in a globalized economy, as countries like India take advantage of advanced communications and a skilled work force.
At the same time, he prodded India to liberalize trade practices to allow U.S. firms to sell more in India to offset the losses caused by outsourcing.
He insisted, though, that the United States was not seeking trade reform in exchange for outsourcing, and he said freer trade would benefit both countries.