Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
NEW DELHI (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the U.S. sympathizes with India’s wariness about talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, whose affiliates have been blamed for attacking Indian reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and the Indian embassy in Kabul.
Kerry made his first trip to India as secretary of state where he worked to enhance a U.S.-India relationship that is deeply rooted despite ongoing disagreements about U.S. support of India’s archrival, Pakistan, roadblocks to trade, restrictions on American companies doing business in fast-growing India and uncertainty about the future stability of Afghanistan.
At a wide-ranging news conference with Indian External Minister Salman Khurshid, Kerry announced that Vice President Joe Biden would visit India in late July to underscore the importance of relations. Kerry also said he hoped the two countries could increase trade.
Khurshid said Kerry reassured him that India’s concerns about U.S. talks with the Taliban would not be overlooked or undermined. The Taliban have historic ties with Pakistan. India is especially concerned about any negotiations with the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, which is blamed for attacking Indian reconstruction projects and the Indian embassy in Kabul. India also blames Pakistan-based insurgents for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, the worst terror incident in the nation.
The Taliban and U.S. agreed last week to begin talks aimed at a political solution in Afghanistan once U.S. and allied troops leave at the end of 2014.
“This is a process — and I think it’s an experiment that’s being done in order to find an alternative for sustainable peace in Afghanistan. One cannot disagree with that,” Khurshid said.
But he didn’t express high hopes for successful talks. “I think it’s very clear what the objective is. How far the objective is possible, only time will tell.”
Kerry said the U.S. was consulting with nations in the region and that James Dobbins, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who was in Kabul on Monday, would visit India on Wednesday to brief officials.
But Kerry’s comments on the issue added confusion to an already chaotic run-up to prospective negotiations.
Kerry said negotiations would only take place if certain conditions were met. He said the Taliban had to respect the Afghanistan constitution, disassociate itself from al-Qaida and violence, and respect the rights of women and minorities. However, the actual U.S. position lists these issues as outcomes of successful negotiations, not preconditions to sit down at the negotiating table.
The push for negotiations got off to a rocky start after the Taliban opened the new office last week with great fanfare on live television, hoisting the flag it used when it ruled Afghanistan and calling the bureau an office of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” That prompted immediate outrage from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who said the use of the formal name and flag made the office akin to an embassy rather than a political bureau for peace negotiations.
Both the sign and flag have since been taken down. But Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a statement that reports his office had agreed to remove them were “baseless and fabricated.” Shaheen said the Taliban’s stance hadn’t changed on the use of both, though he did not say whether the group planned on trying to put them back up.
On Iran, Kerry said the U.S. appreciated how India had worked to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil. Energy-starved India imports large amounts of oil from Iran to satisfy the country of more than 1 billion people. The U.S. wants India to reduce oil imports from Iran to help put pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program.
“We also believe that hopefully India could help urge the new Iranian leadership, and also the old leadership and the supreme leader to take advantage of this moment,” Kerry said of new Iranian President-Elect Hasan Rouhani, elected last week. “We would hope India would help us so the Iranians do not put the world in a position where it is forced to take additional steps with respect to Iran,” a reference to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
India and the US have myriad shared interests, including fighting Islamic militancy and managing the rise of China, but American businessmen have complained to U.S. lawmakers about Indian trade protectionism. They contend that tariff and regulatory barriers are shutting out foreign firms despite reforms that were supposed to open markets. They say that among other things, Indian policies favor local producers.
Kerry noted those concerns, albeit briefly.
He said U.S.-India trade had grown fivefold during the Obama administration and nearly topped $100 billion last year.
“It’s a good start, but both of us agreed today that we can do more,” he said. “We can break down trade barriers.”
India is the second stop on Kerry’s seven-country trip through Asia and the Mideast. He travels to Saudi Arabia and Jordan on Tuesday after attending an Indian event on higher education.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)