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Bush talks of US India high-tech ties

US President George W. Bush announced on Monday that the United States and India would deepen cooperation on civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programs and high-technology trade. In a statement released on the margins of the Summit of the Americas here, Bush said he and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had also agreed “to expand our dialogue on missile defense.”

For reasons that remained unclear, Bush unveiled the landmark agreement on the margins of a summit of Americas in Monterrey, Mexico. A senior administration official who briefed reporters in Washington on the deal said New Delhi had insisted it be released on January 12. He denied the deal was in any way linked to talks between India and Pakistan or any possible movement on Kashmir. Calling the agreement an ” important milestone ” in transforming the relationship between the US and India, Bush said the cooperation “will deepen the ties of commerce and friendship between our two nations and will increase stability in Asia and beyond.”

In his statement, Bush suggested that the agreement, and the realisation of its full potential, was premised on actions by India to tighten its domestic export control laws and other steps. The two nations will take “a series of reciprocal steps,” including expanded engagement on nuclear regulatory and safety issues, missile defense, and seek ways to enhance cooperation in peaceful uses of space technology, said Bush.

On the high-technology trade front, the two sides will tighten restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. “We are working together to promote global peace and prosperity,” he said. “We are partners in the war on terrorism and we are partners in controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.”

In Washington, a senior State Department official said the “strategic partnership” agreement was the result of discussions begun between Bush and Vajpayee in 2001 but stressed that it would be at least months and maybe years before it would come to meaningful fruition.

Officials said that the United States had informed the Pakistani government about the agreement before the White House made the announcement and that Washington was offering Islamabad a similar dialogue on missile defense. Although Monday’s agreement was years in the making, the official said it did not come with any presumption that domestic US laws on the transfer of sensitive technology would be changed, making the effect of the deal uncertain.