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PM trip on Rice menu

New Delhi, March 16: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to visit the United States in June or July.

The invitation from President George W. Bush was extended to him today by secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. She mentioned 'mid-year' as the time for the visit and now it will be left to Indian and American officials to work out the date.

Bush's visit to India also came up during the talks she had with the Prime Minister in the afternoon and Rice indicated that the President could make the trip either at the end of this year or early next year.

Singh met Bush last year on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, but this will be the first bilateral visit by the Prime Minister to the US.

At the meetings today between Rice and her hosts, the US made known its concern over the proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India, passing through Pakistan, while the Indians objected to the sale of F-16s to Islamabad.

Rice and external affairs minister Natwar Singh acknowledged the differences at the joint media conference at Hyderabad House. But the Prime Minister's proposed visit to the US was not made public, nor was the likely co-operation the Bush administration was offering India, especially in the energy sector.

The secretary of state said the two sides were planning a broad energy dialogue that would encompass new areas. The fact that she made the offer alongside expressing concern over the pipeline from Iran indicated that Washington was aware of India's growing energy needs and would like to offer options to Delhi.

Rice, who also met Congress president Sonia Gandhi, tried to explain to the Indian leadership why the US would have to go through with the sale of F-16s to Pakistan.

Natwar Singh told her of Delhi's objections, arguing that a sale at this point of time could place obstacles on the path of peace the neighbours were pursuing.

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