Ahead of her meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday said that more can be done to reduce barriers to trade and investment between the US and India.
“Relations between the US and India most important in the world,” Hillary Clinton said.
Hillary Clinton, who is on a three-day visit to India, will meet Mamata Banerjee today.
Clinton is on her second-ever visit to Kolkata, the first being the time when she represented her husband Bill Clinton during Mother Teresa’s funeral. She would fly off to Delhi on Monday after her meeting with Mamata at Writers’ Buildings, which has been turned into a veritible fortress and rendered out of bounds for even State Ministers when the two ladies meet.
“The agenda is not clear. But the issues likely to be discussed between Mamata and Clinton include FDI, Teesta, insurance and investment climate in Bengal, and potential of US investments in Bengal with particular reference to India’s Look-East policy,” a senior Trinamool Congress leader and a State Minister close to Banerjee said.
The US sees Mamata, the strongest UPA ally, as the biggest roadblock in its plans for investments in the multi-brand retail sector in India. Mamata’s strong opposition, besides that of the BJP, to the Government’s move on the ground that it would have a major adverse impact on the retailers had forced the Manmohan Singh regime to put its plans in cold storage.
“My sense is that she’s not opposed to the retail overall, she just perhaps felt she wasn’t properly consulted about it,” a senior US official was quoted saying by news agencies.
Insofar as Teesta water treaty was concerned, Mamata feared political unrest in North Bengal if the agreement was allowed to be signed in its present form. She feared it could hamper the farming interests of three North Bengal districts, particularly in summer. Mamata had backed out from accompanying the PM to the neighbouring nation and the signing of the agreement was thus shelved.
Clinton, who arrived in Kolkata from Dhaka where she met Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday, is likely to take up the matter with Mamata.
Clinton had intended to visit Kolkata last July when she came to Delhi but changed her plans and visited Chennai instead following opinions in the UPA Government that her visit to Kolkata within a month of the fall of the Communists could lead to political speculation.
“She has chosen to make it this time round even though a section in the Obama administration is hoping to tap Uttar Pradesh instead of Bengal as the destination of US capital,” said sources.
In the national capital, seeking assurances from India to reduce its purchases of oil from sanctions-hit Iran, civil nuclear cooperation and regional security are among the key issues that she is expected to discuss with External Affairs Minister SM Krishna on Tuesday. She is also expected to call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during which they will review the progress made in their countries’ strategic partnership ahead of the India-US strategic dialogue to be held in Washington on June 13.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Marxists expressed reservations over Clinton’s agenda.
“What we have read in the media about Clinton’s unwanted interests in the Teesta water treaty is undesirable. Such poking of nose by a third country in the matter of two countries should not take place. Teesta treaty has nothing to do with the USA,” CPI(M) politburo member Biman Bose said.
Clinton arrived in India leaving behind her a stormy visit to China, which saw Beijing and Washington tussle over the fate of a blind Chinese human rights activist who had escaped 19 months of house arrest and fled to the US embassy.