NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged a greater role for India on Afghanistan and climate change as he sought to revive stuttering cooperation between the world's two largest democracies.
On his first visit to India as the top US diplomat, Kerry tried a few words in Hindi, pressed his hands in a traditional namaste greeting and quoted Mark Twain who said the diverse land was the sole country all people want to see.
Kerry firmly supported an involvement in Afghanistan for India, which is desperate to avoid a return of the Taliban once US troops leave but whose aid and diplomacy are viewed with suspicion by mutual neighbour Pakistan.
Kerry said that India had a “central role” in ensuring free elections due in April next year in Afghanistan. A week after a false start in US dialogue with the Taliban, Kerry acknowledged that a final settlement “may be long in coming”.
Kerry, who will meet the Indian leadership on Monday, devoted most of his speech to climate change in what his aides said was a signal that the scourge will be a top priority for him as secretary of state, much as it was when he was a senator.
After expressing his condolences for the victims of devastating floods in northern India, Kerry said that “it appears as if, in many ways, in many places, Mother Nature is telling us to heed the warnings”.
“Yours is already one of the most severely affected nations -- and unfortunately, the worst consequences of the climate crisis will confront people who are least capable of coping with them,” Kerry added.
US businesses accuse India of reneging on agreements to open its economy -- an issue on which Kerry again pressed New Delhi -- while India has been suspicious of attempts in the US Congress to curb visas for high-tech workers. Climate change is one area where the two have open disagreements, with India a leader among developing nations that resist a binding international accord on grounds that wealthy countries bear historic responsibility for the problem.
Kerry argued that action on climate change would benefit the Indian economy by addressing the growing economy's need for power.
Trying to underscore Kerry's message, the United States announced a $100 million partnership with the private sector to invest in clean energy in India.