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'Don't expect tangibles from summit'

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
July 18, 2005 20:07 IST
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Summit talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush began at the Oval Office at 0955 hours local time.

The two leaders are scheduled talk vis a vis, in what is termed a 'restricted meeting', for about 15 minutes, following which they will be joined by the respective delegations for a more extended session, that will likely last for 45 minutes.

At an informal media briefing at the Sea Catch restaurant on 31st Street Sunday evening, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran indicated that the talks would be broad-based and wide-ranging.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Saran said, had called on External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh earlier Sunday evening, to outline broadly the subjects for discussion.

The two heads of state, Saran said, would discuss the gamut of bilateral and multilateral issues – terrorism, escalating economic and defense cooperation, and nuclear technology transfers are expected to be high on the agenda.

Saran emphasized – repeatedly – that it would be a wrong to expect the summit to produce quantifiable tangibles. Talks at this level, he pointed out, are not about micro-management.

"Such talks, at this level, serve a larger purpose," Saran said. "The two leaders will discuss the issues on the table, what can be expected is an affirmation, at the highest level, of the direction and shape of bilateral relations between the two nations.

It is then, Saran said, up to the respective ministries to implement the particulars of the vision the two leaders arrive at.

Outside of broad affirmation, the foreign secretary said, no specifics should be looked for. Pakistan terrorism? "We are both pluralistic democracies, and both face the threat of terrorism, so that will be discussed but I cannot say it will be with specific relation to any one country.

Was it an ill omen that on the eve of the PM's visit, the US has indicated that it will not back India's bid for a place on the UN Security Council? The two, Saran said, are not linked. "We are aware of the US views on the subject; the US has set forth what it believes are the criteria a nation qualifying for the SC seat should possess, and we believe India fulfills every one of the conditions.

Saran spent some 15 minutes with the assembled media; during this period, he repeatedly emphasized that today's meeting will be broad-based, and not item-specific.

We will know how broad the discussions were based, and what subjects were discussed when the two leaders emerge for a 45-minute long joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, beginning 11.15 local time.

Complete coverage: Manmohan Singh in Washington

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC