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Bush in Washington call rush

New Delhi, May 26: Manmohan Singh is not as tough a tongue-twister as Abu Ghraib — and George W. Bush had no problem spending eight minutes on the phone with the new Indian Prime Minister.

The American President’s congratulatory call to Singh this evening was described by foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna as “warm and cordial”.

It was not known, however, if Bush, famous for slip-ups on Abu Ghraib and even less challenging words, addressed Singh by his name or simply as “Prime Minister”.

“The two leaders agreed that relations between the two countries are strong and multi-faceted. Both countries will work together to strengthen this,” Sarna said, adding that the national security advisers of both sides would remain in touch with each other.

In Washington, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said Bush encouraged Singh to continue talks with Pakistan.

Bush’s call did not come as a surprise. Soon after the election results were out, American ambassador David Mulford had expressed his government’s desire to work closely with the new dispensation.

Mulford was one of the first envoys in Delhi to hold a media briefing. He told a select group of journalists that the US had a long tradition of working with the Congress. But, though he did not say so, the composition of the new government, particularly the large number of Left MPs supporting it, was a cause of worry for Washington.

On Monday, US secretary of state Colin Powell spoke to his Indian counterpart and Mulford handed over a personal message from the Bush administration to the new leadership in Delhi. These calls were customary. Leaders from other countries were also calling up to congratulate key ministers.

But the frequency of calls from Washington is being seen as an attempt to ascertain if the new regime in Delhi would bring about any fundamental shift in policy.

The US and India had come closer when the BJP-led coalition was in power and Washington wants to maintain the pace.

Although political and military cooperation between the two sides has been growing steadily, cooperation on the economic front has been weak. Mulford, an economist, was chosen by Washington to strengthen this aspect when he was sent as replacement for Robert Blackwill as US ambassador.

The US is keen that India open up its banking and insurance sectors as this, it feels, would boost economic ties between the two sides. But this could be a problem, especially with the Left parties.

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