U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in India for two days of talks ranging from Iran to oil imports to Wal-mart.
Clinton arrived in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal state, Sunday after visits to neighboring Bangladesh and China. On Monday, she is scheduled to meet with the state’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — who has been a major roadblock to Indian efforts to open its market for foreign direct investment in retail.
Last year, Banerjee forced the government to roll back an order that would have allowed American companies like Wal-mart to own a 51-percent stake in multi-brand retail operations, including those that run supply chains for food and agriculture.
Clinton then travels on to the Indian capital. While in New Delhi, Secretary Clinton will meet with Indian leaders to lay the groundwork for a U.S.-India strategic forum scheduled next month in Washington.
The top U.S. diplomat is also expected to raise the issue of civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries, discuss a stalled agreement to share water from the Teesta river with Bangladesh, and push New Delhi to continue reducing its dependence on Iranian oil by opting to buy from other countries.
India has made some reductions in its dependence on Iranian oil, but the South Asian nation has enormous energy needs stemming from its rapid growth. India is strongly critical of a U.S. law to impose sanctions on banks from countries that buy oil from Iran. The U.S. and other Western countries are penalizing Iran for its nuclear ambitions.
Clinton’s Indian visit coincides with a visit from a large Iranian trade delegation.
While in Bangladesh, Clinton expressed support for the work of Grameen Bank and its founder, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus. She said she does not want to see Yunus’ work undermined by the Bangladeshi government.
Clinton held a private meeting Sunday with the 71-year-old Yunus, who was ousted as managing director of the pioneering micro-lender Grameen Bank last year in a retirement-age dispute.
On Saturday, she met with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia.
Bangladeshi officials have said they want to encourage more investment from the United States and would like to gain greater access to U.S. markets. Clinton said for that to happen, Bangladesh must set aside its internal bickering, and end the related violence.