Washington: Despite differences over the nuclear liability issue, Washington's disappointment on the fighter jets deal, FDI and New Delhi's refusal to toe West's line on Syria and Libya at the UN Security Council, India and the US tried hard to look beyond frictions to expand their ties to new areas this year.

The Indo-US civil nuclear deal, pushed originally by former President George W Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was touted as a game changer for bilateral ties in recent years, but with the liability issues causing serious differences, the initial euphoria seemed to have died down.

Having witnessed a major industrial tragedy in Bhopal, liability has been a sensitive issue for India, and the Indian Parliament passed the nuclear liability bill that places part of the responsibility of an accident on the supplier company.

The US expressed resentment over the regulations arguing they do not leave a level-playing field for its companies.

Washington was again not satisfied with the stand taken by New Delhi at the UN Security Council, where India differed on key issues like Syria and Libya.

On the military front, the US was unhappy when Defence Minister A K Antony turned down the Pentagon proposal to include defence as part of the Strategic Dialogue. As a result of which the Strategic Dialogue had to be pushed by several months, although the official position was that this was mainly because of the state elections in India.

Another issue that left the US openly disappointed was when India did not shortlist two American companies – Boeing and Lockheed Martin – for its lucrative multi-billion fighter jet deal. Besides, the government's decision to recoil its move to approve foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail also frustrated America's corporate sector.

India too had its own issues with the US this year, including the outrage over the arrest of several students and their radio tagging following the closure of a university in California on visa fraud charges.

New Delhi also did not find much progress on a number of key trade and business areas and relaxation in export of several high tech areas, despite repeated assurances from the Obama Administration in this regard.

The Anna Hazare stir also caused a minor irritant between the two sides when State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the US hoped India would exercise "democratic restraint" in dealing with the protests, following which India reacted sharply calling them "needless" utterances.

However, the differences, along with India's concern over the not so forthcoming co-operation on counterterrorism issues like on David Headley, were never a real threat to ties as the two countries looked beyond the frictions to expand their relationship to new frontiers, laying a foundation to the vision laid down by US President Barack Obama during his 2010 visit, wherein he identified India-US relationship as defining partnerships of the 21st century.

2011 could be remembered as a year wherein the US was continuously seen pushing New Delhi for playing a greater role in global affairs to match its economic and military power.

While Obama during his Asia trip later this year identified India as a major Asia Pacific power, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose Chennai for one of her landmark speeches wherein she unveiled her vision of the New Silk Route which has the potential to herald a new economic revolution in the entire South and Central Asia.

The first-ever trilateral dialogue held between India, Japan and the US this month is another indication of the role US wants New Delhi to play. It was again this year that the two started "consultations" on Middle East and North Africa.

This gained importance in the context of the Arab Spring, as Washington wants India to help countries in North Africa and Middle East to establish roots of democracy.

In her landmark Chennai speech, Clinton explained why the US considers India important in its scheme of things.

"President Obama made a state visit to India last year. I have been here twice in the last two years. And why, one might ask? Why are we coming to India so often and welcoming Indian officials to Washington as well?" she asked.

"It's because we understand that much of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia, and that much of the future of Asia will be shaped by decisions not only of the Indian Government in New Delhi, but of governments across India," said Clinton.

A few months later in Washington, Clinton co-chaired a meeting with Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal to launch the first ever India-US Education Summit.

The two countries carried out their intensive consultations on regional issues, Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular; even though not much appeared in the public domain. The White House sees the benefit of India's counseling in the troubled Af-Pak region.

The fact that President Obama himself dropped in during a meeting when National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon visited White House at the invitation of his counterpart Tom Donilon is an indication to that effect.

"The President and his National Security team took opportunities this year to advance the bilateral relationship, follow-up on the President's successful November 2010 visit, and launch new initiatives that provide strategic continuity to the relationship," Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson of the National Security Council, White House, said.

"The President and Prime Minister Singh met in Bali in November on margins of the East Asia Summit to highlight our shared goals in Asia and the importance of building collaborative multilateral institutions in the region," Hayden said.

"We look forward to continuing to work closely with the Indian Government in the year ahead on the wide-range of issues in our shared bilateral, regional and global interests," she said.

This year, the Obama Administration also took the important step of building relationship with Indian states, with its top officials including Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake himself travelling to several states including West Bengal, besides several visits made by Reta Jo Lewis, Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs.

The unique feature of US-India relationship is that it enjoys a rare bipartisan support in Washington; even at a time when the Republicans and Democrats are bitterly divided in the Congress right now.

This was quite evident when lawmakers from both the parties turned out the reception hosted by the India Caucuses in both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the new Indian Ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao.

Even as the two countries continued to march ahead in strengthening and deepening of their bilateral ties, a number of pot holes – small and big – hit the road this year.

However, unlike the bilateral relationship with other countries like China or Pakistan never spilled in the open. Reflecting a growing sign of maturity, officials of the two countries tried to resolve them through talks.

(Agencies)