Menon visits Sri Lanka

National Security Adviser Mr Shivshankar Menon Yesterday visited Sri Lanka to discuss recent developments, bilateral relations and areas of common concern with the Government of Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka Menon met President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris, Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and TNA leader Mr. Sampanthan. 

During his visit, both sides reviewed and appreciated progress in India-assisted projects particularly railway infrastructure development in the Northern and Southern Provinces.In the past two years, India had committed US$ 750 million under lines of credit and another US$ 350 million under grants-in-aid. A number of other new projects are also being considered. 
They discussed maritime cooperation and other security related issues besides the fishermen’s issue and understood the need to adhere to practical arrangements of October 2008 until new mechanism was agreed upon.
Menon was briefed about steps Government of Sri Lanka has taken on political reconciliation and settlement. Menon underlined that although it was a Sri Lankan issue and something that Sri Lanka had to do, India would continue to remain engaged with all concerned and offer any support required in that regard. 
 He also said that India had always stood for a united Sri Lanka within which all citizens could live in equality, justice, dignity and self-respect.
While addressing media, Menon said, “We have worked closely with the Government of Sri Lanka on relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of IDPs. India’s assistance was appreciated by the Sri Lankan leadership in all my meetings. We remain committed to continue our cooperation.”

Highlighting the close relationship with Sri Lanka Menon said, “we enjoy a multifaceted and dynamic relationship (with Sri Lanka). We look forward to strengthening and further developing this engagement.”

Indo-Pak Foreign Secretaries to meet on July 4-5

Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan will now meet on July 4 and 5 in New Delhi to discuss peace and security including Confidence building measures (CBMs), Jammu and Kashmir, and promotion of friendly exchanges. They were earlier scheduled to meet on June 29-30. Peace and Security including CBMs, Jammu and Kashmir, and Promotion of friendly ties form three of eight subjects of Indo-Pak Composite Dialogue. Last dialogue covering these three subjects was held on June 23-24, 2011.

On Peace and Security front, the two sides agreed to recommend to their Foreign Secretaries to extend the validity of the “Agreement on Reducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear Weapons” for another five years. Jammu and Kashmir issue achieved no breakthrough and on Promotion of friendly exchanges, the two sides discussed measures for promoting cooperation in various fields including facilitating visits to religious shrines, media exchanges, and holding of sports tournaments and cessation of hostile propaganda against each other.

Other five subjects which form Composite Dialogue are – Terrorism and Drug Trafficking, Economic and Commercial cooperation, Wular Barrage/Tulbul Navigation project, Sir Creek, and Siachen.
Different dialogues on Terrorism and Drug trafficking, Sir Creek, Siachen and Wular barrage have been held this year but again no major breakthrough.

Composite Dialogue between India and Pakistan was first started in 1998 at India’s initiative.
This first attempt at composite dialogue collapsed under the impact of the Kargil war in 1999.
Accusing Pakistan of involvement in terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001, India froze Dialogue with Pakistan. Tensions increased further at the instance of killings in Jammu and Kashmir resulting in a troop buildup by both sides in early 2002.

With a hope to abate cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan’s assurance not to allow its territory for terrorist activity, the Composite Dialogue was resumed in June 2004.
Pakistan had been repeatedly urged to ensure that its soil was not allowed to be used by militants to launch attacks on the people of the Kashmir valley and that camps of such extremists were dismantled.
Four Rounds of the Composite Dialogue were completed before it was once again suspended during its fifth round owing to terrorist attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008.
Pakistan’s consistent pressure and India’s appreciation to the achievements and momentum that dialogue picked up between 2004 and 2007, lead to resumption of dialogue process in February 2011 in Thimphu
Interestingly, India doesn't term it as Composite Dialogue, Simply bilateral dialogue.

Following several secretary level meetings, Ministerial level meeting was held in July 2011 wherein External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and Foreign Minister of Pakistan Hina Rabbani Khar reviewed the progress in bilateral relations.

Owing to presidential elections on July 19 and commencement of parliament session on July 22 this year, Ministerial level meeting is postponed to August.

Addressing media on Tuesday, Ministry of External Affairs, Spokesperson Syed Akbarudding said,” when the date (previous) was being mentioned, there was no reference to an election for the President and with a specific date of polling on that date. Since that has become the date on which the polling for the President is involved, and the External Affairs Minister of India is part of the Electoral College for an important election in India, obviously we seek to reschedule these dates.” 

Who will be the next Finance Minister of India?

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee resigned today just ahead of filing his presidential nomination on June 28. 
His resignation comes at a time when the economy is in shambles and the administration is suffering from policy paralysis.
Pranab’s resignation raises two questions - one, as to who will replace him in the finance portfolio and two, who will be the next Leader of the House in Lok Sabha.
Being an economist and revolutionary ex-Finance Minister, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the obvious first choice for the portfolio. Chief Economic Advisor to the Government Kaushik Basu is also of the opinion that the Prime Minister should keep the portfolio with him.
Although long away, it is believed that Singh would appoint more secretaries before he presents the next budget. However, the PM has consistently refused to comment on the issue so far.
Next possible candidate is Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, however, with a number of controversies chasing him, it seems a little unlikely, though not fully ruled out.
Significantly, last week US Treasury Department announced postponement of Secretary Tim Geithner’s official visit to New Delhi for the crucial meeting of the US-India Economic and Financial Partnership forum, originally scheduled for June 27-28, on account of Mukherjee’s expected resignation as Finance Minister. The Treasury Department is expected to reschedule the meeting in the months ahead.
"Mukherjee has been an effective ally in the G-20 and a strong partner in deepening the economic relationship between the United States and India," the Department of Treasury said in a statement.
Mukherjee became Finance Minister in May 2009 after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition assumed power the second time. Earlier during the tenure of UPA-I, the veteran Congress leader held the portfolios of Defence and External Affairs.

Manmohan Singh congratulates new Pak PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday hailed appointment of Raja Pervez Ashraf as new Prime Minister of Pakistan.

In his congratulatory message to Pervez, Singh said, “I would like to extend to you my heartiest congratulations on your appointment as Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. On behalf of the people and Government of India and also on my own behalf, I convey to you our best wishes for success in your new assignment as well as for the peace, prosperity and well-being of the people of Pakistan under your leadership.”

Singh also expressed confidence that during his (Pervez’s) terms as PM, both countries would continue to make progress through bilateral dialogues on all issues and improve relation by strengthening cooperation in all areas that benefit both countries.

Singh expressed keen desire to work with Pervez Ashraf to further relations with Pakistan.

US exempts India from Iran sanctions

Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday notified that Indiaalong with six other nations will get exemption from Iran sanctions. Six nations besides India to be exempted  are MalaysiaRepublic of Korea,South AfricaSri Lanka, and Turkey in return for significant reduction of crude oil purchase from Iran.

Clinton said in a statement, “I will report to the Congress that sanctions pursuant to Section 1245(d)(1) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 will not apply to their financial institutions for a potentially renewable period of 180 days.”
She acknowledged the sanctions were imposed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and to encourage Iran to comply with its international obligations. She added, “By reducing Iran’s oil sales, we are sending a decisive message to Iran’s leaders: until they take concrete actions to satisfy the concerns of the international community, they will continue to face increasing isolation and pressure.”

Clinton held that the United States remains committed to a dual-track policy that offers Iran the chance to engage seriously with the international community to resolve concerns over its (Iran’s) nuclear program through negotiations with the P5+1. Hillary commended Iran for its ability to address these concerns and urged its leaders to take concrete steps during the next round of talks in Moscow.

Under a law approved last year, the US starting on June 28 will penalize foreign financial institutions over transactions withIran's central ban.

In March, the US granted exceptions to Japan and 10 EU countries for significantly cutting purchases.

Acknowledging the US notification exempting Indian financial institutions from the application of the provisions of U.S. domestic law, Ministry of External affairs Spokesperson, Syed Akbaruddin said, "India and the United States have a growing strategic partnership. The India-US Strategic Dialogue on June 13 will once again demonstrate the strength of our relationship and the extraordinary breadth of our bilateral cooperation, based on our shared values and convergent interests."

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will have a restricted meeting with Secretary Clinton on June 13 before they chair the Plenary Session, which will have discussions on five themes:

• Strategic, Defence, Homeland Security, Counter-terrorism and Intelligence
• Economic, Energy, Climate
• S&T, Innovation and Health
• Higher Education and Empowerment
• Regional Strategies and linkages.