In a joint news conference on Wednesday in New Delhi, Rice and Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh said they discussed the possible sale of the advanced F-16 jets to both India and Pakistan but did not expect any agreement to be announced.

India wants to buy the US aircraft while denying it to Pakistan. The neighbouring rivals have fought three wars since their 1947 independence from Britain.

Rice - who is due to visit Pakistan next on her whirlwind tour of Asia this week that also includes stops in South Korea, Japan and China - said F-16 sales would be a topic during talks in Islamabad as well.

F-16s sale

Pakistan bought 40 F-16s during the 1980s, but the US Congress put a stop to sales in 1990.

"There are one or two items on which we don't agree, but our relations have now reached a maturity where we can discuss these things freely and frankly"

Natwar Singh,
Indian foreign minister

Rice said the United States had built solid relationships with India and Pakistan, in part because of their cooperation in the "war on terrorism".

That "has helped the two states (India and Pakistan) to have good relations with each other", she said.

Asked about India's plan to build an oil pipeline from Iran, Rice said US objections were well-known.

Indian-Iranian pipeline

Washington has no diplomatic relations with Iran and wants to keep international pressure on Tehran to give up nuclear ambitions and institute democratic reforms.

Singh, however, indicated little willingness to cancel the deal. "We have no problems of any kind with Iran," he said at the news conference, in Rice's presence.

During their meeting, Singh said he and Rice "did express ... concerns about several matters on the defence issue", adding that "there are one or two items on which we don't agree, but our relations have now reached a maturity where we can discuss these things freely and frankly".

US-China relations

Rice also has a full agenda in Beijing later this week.

Sino-US relations have become strained with China's decision to pass a controversial law on Monday that sanctions an attack on Taiwan if the island makes a move for official independence. 

Relations with North Korea and
China will be on the agenda

The Bush administration criticised the new law, and Rice said she would discuss it with Chinese leaders.

Beijing has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since Nationalist troops lost the Chinese civil war on the mainland and fled to the island in 1949.

The China law may make European nations reconsider resuming weapons sales to Beijing they announced recently that were suspended after the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, China. 

US diplomacy

So far, the United States has been unable to persuade the European Union to continue the embargo, despite a major diplomatic offensive from Rice.
 
Rice also blamed North Korea for its diplomatic isolation, and said international diplomacy remained the best way to persuade the reportedly destitute country to give up nuclear ambitions.

North Korea has pulled out of six-way talks, lambasted the US and announced last month that it had already built a nuclear weapon.

The US, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and North Korea are party to the six-way talks.