India and the United States begin their first strategic dialogue on Wednesday with an assurance that the US is committed to India's emergence as a global power and does not see it either through the prism of Pakistan or the lens of an emerging China.
"Never has there been a moment when India and America mattered more to each other," said US Undersecretary of State William Burns on Tuesday ahead of foreign policy dialogue with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao on Wednesday.
"Never has there been a moment when the partnership between India and America mattered more to the rest of the globe," he said in an address at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank on "India's Rise and the Promise of US-Indian Partnership".
The Burn-Rao meeting sets the stage for the inaugural ministerial level dialogue on Thursday led by Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aimed at broadening cooperation in areas ranging from climate change, education, poverty, counterterrorism and trade initiatives.
Krishna himeslf would on Wednesday outline his vision of India-US relationship with an address at the India Business Council focusing on the theme of emerging opportunities in India-US Cooperation in the field of innovation and knowledge industries
Burns acknowledged "some in India do worry today that the United States seeks to 're-hyphenate' relations with India … that we see India mainly through the prism of preoccupations in Afghanistan and Pakistan … that we won't push Pakistan hard enough on terrorists who kill and threaten Indians … that we will hurry toward the exit in Afghanistan and leave India holding the strategic pieces.
"Some in India worry that the new administration is tempted by visions of a 'G-2' world … that we've 'downgraded' India because we see Asia exclusively through the lens of an emerging China, with India's role secondary," Burns said.
At pains again to counter perceptions that President Barack Obama was not as warm towards India as his predecessor George Bush was, Burns noted that a third of the US Cabinet has visited India since Obama took office almost a year and a half ago, and that Obama himself intends to visit this year.
"The simple truth is that India's strength and progress on the world stage is deeply in the strategic interest of the United States," he said. "The further truth, however, is that progress in US-Indian partnership is not automatic."
"It requires continued hard work and vision on both sides. It requires patience and creativity. And it requires honesty in dealing head-on with concerns and doubts that arise on both sides."
Noting "India and the United States have both suffered devastating terrorist attacks, with the scars of 9/11 and 26/11 still fresh in both our societies," the US official said: "Since the horrific assault on Mumbai in November 2008, US-Indian cooperation in counter-terrorism has deepened rapidly, in the interests of both our countries."
"Expanded US-Indian defence cooperation, unimaginable not so long ago, is a valuable means of supporting our shared interest in India's broadened international security role," he said asserting "Our stake in India's defence modernisation is real and increasing, and defence trade has taken off since our 2005 framework agreement."
Burns also sought to ease India's concerns over Afghanistan, saying Washington valued India's role there and saw its involvement as a "key part of that country's future success."
The ongoing strategic dialogue "elevates India to the rank of our most important global partners," he said suggesting the talks "are meant to deepen habits of collaboration and drive away lingering doubts."