Millennium Post

An affair of the heart

New Delhi and Washington heaved a sigh of relief at the successful third Indo-US dialogue in Washington last week. Both sides see this as a new milestone in the Indo – US ties.

There was no disappointment as both sides did not expect any big breakthrough. It was just a “let us dance once “kind of gesture. Americans are busy with the presidential elections, which is just four months away. India too is involved with its presidential elections next month. The US side too was aware of the situation in India with a weak government struggling to survive.

External Affairs minister S.M. Krishna was optimistic and said that the third Indo-US strategic dialogue had been remarkable because it extended to broader areas including education, military, science and technology and women and child welfare.

US Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton went a step further and said it was an affair of the heart. The key talks also included regional and bilateral issues like Afghanistan and Pakistan and India even raised further access to Mumbai terror accused Headly.

The immediate action from the White House following the strategic talks was a telephone call from President Obama to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Obama stressed the need for a successful G-20 meeting in Mexico in which the economic slowdown of India and China also figured.

 There is no doubt that the Indo-US ties are growing and growing fast. The Americans have made it clear that they would like India to play a bigger role in South Asia. Recently the US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta on his visit to Delhi described India as a “lynchpin” in the new US military strategy. He made no secret of the fact that the US was looking to New Delhi in its efforts to contain China in the region. He also showed exasperation about Pakistan not delivering.

 All efforts were made by the Americans to set a favorable atmosphere for the dialogue. Just hours before Krishna arrived in Washington, Clinton announced exempting India from financial sanction in return for cutting down import of oil from Iran. Iran oil is a prickly issue but Hillary made it clear that the US understands the Indian needs of importing oil.

 Krishna on his part clarified that India was looking to other countries like Saudi Arabia to meet its demands. The removal of sanctions helped the Indian negotiators to move forward in their dialogue on science and technology and education. Krishna conveyed to Clinton that India’s stand on the Iran nuclear issue should be settled through dialogue.

Added to that was the high level appointment of an Indian to the Supreme Court and continuing stories of interest in Indian economy despite its down-grading. All this engagement shows the growing unease of China and fast deteriorating US-Pak ties which has almost reached its bottom.

The Indian delegation was very large. At least half a dozen ministers including Kapil Sibal, Krishna Tirath, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Aswini Kumar and Planning commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Prime Minister’s adviser Sam Pitroda were part of the delegation. The five key areas identified included trade, education and security cooperation. During the meetings, Krishna tried to convince that Indian economy was strong in fundamentals and the reform process will go forward. There have been doubts in the American business community about the growth story of India. Over the last two years, the American investors had their hopes raised only to be dashed by the slow process of the Indian decisions. Krishna informed them that India planned to invest more than a trillion dollars in infrastructure development in the next five years and pointed out the US business would have opportunities in this regard. Neither side pressed the other on complaints regarding market access and protectionist tendencies. There was no economic breakthrough.

The one big item was the signing of MOU between the US Westing House and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited.

They signed a preliminary pact for early works agreement for installation of a 1000 MW American nuclear reactor. This was the first breakthrough after the signing of the Indo-US nuclear treaty in 2008. The American business is still waiting for Indian Parliament to pass the civil liabilities bill. The other important outcome was the trilateral talks on Afghanistan. The US wants India to play a role in Afghanistan. The two sides also discussed Pakistan, China and Afghanistan in detail which is strategically important.

 It was higher education that stole the show during the dialogue. Kapil Sibal, on his part talked of Meta universities and higher education with Hillary Clinton. He made a feverish pitch for US investment in Indian universities. Pitroda on his part counseled patience to those who were getting disenchanted with the slowing down of India’s growth story.

Despite all this bonhomie, some Indian analysts think that New Delhi should move with caution and should not be pushed to follow the American agenda.The US wants things to happen soon. (IPA Service)
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