Clinton to use his official visit to India to promote regional peace


President Clinton is to begin an official visit to India tomorrow, the first by an American head of state in 22 years.

For the next five days he will focus on ensuring peace in the region, promoting an environment where nuclear risks are reduced and examining the underlying problems of the northern Kashmir state, which are fuelling tensions between Delhi and Islamabad.

The President, who is on a brief visit to Bangladesh today, is also due to stop off for a few hours in Islamabad on his way home on Saturday.

Mr Clinton will also concentrate on enhancing bilateral economic relations, particularly in the information technology field, in which thousands of Indians are closely involved across the US.

Mr Clinton - who dubbed the 462-mile line of control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, as the world's "most dangerous place" - declared he would use his visit to try and ease tension and the "likelihood of conflict" between the nuclear-capable neighbours by looking at ways to resolve the 53-year old dispute over the principality which is claimed by both sides.

He said he also wanted to create an environment to "reduce the likelihood of [nuclear] weapons proliferation" as a nuclear future was dangerous for India, Pakistan and the world.

Mr Clinton said his trip would be an attempt to "rekindle" the relationship between Washington and New Delhi.

"We have a lot of things we can do together, a lot of mutual interests," he said.

Officials said Mr Clinton's visit would concentrate on people-to-people ties, business and information technology (IT) projects, which were fast becoming the driving force of relations between the two nations. Apart from conflict resolution and nuclear matters, scores of Indian officials have been concerned that Mr Clinton might just not spot a tiger when he visits the Ranthambore sanctuary in western India.

Nervous game wardens at the sanctuary, 250 miles west of New Delhi are sending teams of experienced trackers armed with walkie-talkies to vantage points around water holes to spot tigers for the visiting dignitary.

Any tiger that ventures out will be marked for the President, said Deputy Field Director G. Vishwanath Reddy.

Ranthambore was placed on Mr Clinton's itinerary after the US Ambassador, Mr Richard Celeste, sighted seven tigers on a recent visit.

But wildlife officials said frenetic activity centred on building eight helipads and repairing roads inside the sanctuary had sent the tigers into hiding.