New York, Sept. 21: In the first summit-level interaction between the UPA government and the US administration, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush agreed here today that the best is yet to come in Indo-US relations.
An hour-long breakfast meeting between the two leaders dispelled misgivings in the Bush administration about continuity in Indo-US relations under a Congress-led, communist-supported government in New Delhi.
Foreign secretary Shyam Saran said after the summit that India 'may get military hardware' from the US.
If that happens, it will be the very first time that India will seek and the US will agree to sell military hardware to India.
Previous US military sales to India have been only in the form of components: the most recent sales were of equipment for protecting aircraft used by the Prime Minister and the President against missiles and other similar threats and of weapon-locating radars for the Indian Army.
Saran added a rider on the purchase of US military hardware that 'we have not got there yet', but said the progress made in the 'Next Steps in Strategic Partnership' (NSSP) between India and the US opened the way to such sales by the Americans.
A joint statement issued after the breakfast was effusive on the NSSP. Bush and Singh hailed the removal of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) from the US government's Entity List' of organisations subject to sanctions as 'the beginning of a new era of cooperation and trust'.
They said Indo-US relations have 'never been as close as they were at present', adding that 'expanded defence cooperation was perceived as an integral aspect of the expanding ties'.
Saran said the atmosphere at the breakfast was 'warm and friendly' and described both leaders as 'relaxed' during their meeting. From the Indian side, Singh was assisted during the talks by Saran, national security adviser J.. Dixit, external affairs minister Natwar Singh and Ronen Sen, India's ambassador in Washington.
Present on the American side were secretary of state Colin Powell, Dixit's US counterpart Condoleezza Rice and former US ambassador to India Robert Blackwill, who is now the chief aide to Bush on Iraq in the National Security Council.
In brief comments to the media as Singh was being received at the presidential suite at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Bush described Singh as 'the leader of a great country and the leader of a friend of the US'.
He said he has 'really been looking forward to meeting the Prime Minister'. Bush then turned to Singh and said: 'And I am proud you are here, Sir.'
The meeting began with Singh expressing condolences over the beheading of American hostage Eugene Armstrong in Iraq on Sunday. This set off a discussion on terrorism with Singh emphasising that India has long been at the receiving end of terror.
Saran said there was appreciation by the Americans about the Indian view of the sources of terror in South Asia notwithstanding the treatment befitting an ally that the Americans -- Bush included ' are extending to General Pervez Musharraf this week.
Although a substantial part of the talks between the two leaders on bilateral relations dwelt on the NSSP, Bush recalled his meeting with the parents of Kalpana Chawla, the Indian American astronaut who was killed in a space shuttle disaster last year.
He said Chawla was a reminder that India had come of age in technological prowess.
With Singh's strong background in economics and his reputation as a former finance minister, it was inevitable that there would be considerable discussion on economic matters.
The Prime Minister not only reiterated India's commitment to greater economic reform, but said the UPA government would extend the reforms to new sectors of the economy.