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'India has important role in Central Asia'

Just after you had returned from the Presidential trip to South Asia, you said you had read Strobe Talbott's book, Engaging India, before getting on Air Force One with the President, and that that was one way you prepared yourself.

I am not a voracious reader, but I read a little pile of books and I'll continue to read. The one benefit of these very, very long airplane flights to and from South Asia is you get a chance to read more than you do otherwise.

Do you believe it was a good idea to include Central Asia too in the bureau? Because while India has a higher profile than it ever did, won't the other countries, particularly the smaller ones, tend to be ignored? Which would be ironic, because enhancing the South Asia region was the reason the bureau was set up in the first place about 15 years ago.

What we see is the new opportunities that have opened up. That whatever we can do in terms of linking South and Central Asia -- at least in our minds, our policies, our aid program, our funding -- is going to help the region. India has a very important role to play in Central Asia and so we want to see where we can work with India in this bigger region, and frankly, in other places around the world as well. The thing people need to remember is there is a strategic change on the ground. It's not just our bureaucratic reorganization. Afghanistan used to be an obstacle for decades. Afghanistan has prevented South and Central Asia from communicating. The Soviet Union prevented it as well to a great extent. So what you have now is you have independent nations with resources, desires, markets -- their own needs -- and an Afghanistan that can serve as a pivot point and nations in South Asia that may need energy, but they may be able to supply products, they may be able to supply port facilities and services to folks in Central Asia. They may have education exchanges, political dialogues, democracy initiatives, and just the needs match up -- they are compatible. Does that mean India gets diluted? No, in fact, a lot of the things we are doing with India either are proving grounds or opportunities not only to do those things with India, but to do those with others as well.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush announce the nuclear agreement in New Delhi, March 2.

Photograph : Photo Division, Ministry of I & B Government of India.

Also See: 'Nuclear deal was India's idea'

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