Washington: The world’s largest democracy is about to get a better spot on US President Barack Obama’s dance card.
Mending relations: US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in her first policy address on India on 17 June, said the two nations will have to confront and transcend the mistrust that has hampered past cooperation. Susana Gonzalez / Bloomberg
War in Afghanistan, instability in Pakistan and upheaval in Iran have diverted attention from India. Its cooperation is essential to slow climate change, passing new world-trade rules and stemming a regional arms race. The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s planned trip later this week is the Obama administration’s first high-profile effort to resolve differences with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s new government.
Obama wants to preserve momentum built up during George W. Bush’s presidency, when the two countries agreed to cooperate on nuclear energy for the first time since India’s 1974 nuclear test. US companies, including Fairfield, Connecticut-based General Electric Co., don’t want to lose business in an economy that India projects will expand about 7% this year during a global recession.
While India has “a growing capacity and willingness to act” on global problems, its relationship with the US has yet to be tested during Obama’s watch, says Evan Feigenbaum, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for India under Bush. On strategic issues, from cutting carbon emissions to ratifying a global nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the two sides need to “manage disagreements towards compromise”.
That’s increasingly important when India is flexing its muscles as an emerging economic power. It joined Russia and China in challenging the dominance of the dollar in world currency markets and resisted US pressure for deeper cuts to import tariffs on manufactured goods—an impasse that helped bring about the collapse of world trade negotiations in Doha, Qatar, last July.
Nuclear arms have long been a point of contention. India has resisted signing a comprehensive test-ban treaty unless the entire world moves to nuclear disarmament. While the US wants to stop a regional arms race, India has been adding to its nuclear arsenal, as have neighbours China and Pakistan.
In her first policy address on India on 17 June, Clinton said the two nations “will have to confront and transcend the mistrust that has hampered our cooperation in the past and address the lingering uncertainties”.
Her visit will be a trial run for a still evolving policy, an opportunity to start working through disagreements and showcase cooperation on clean energy technology, space exploration and education, says Teresita Schaffer, a former state department official.
US lawmakers want Clinton to promote stability and nuclear security by urging India to reduce tensions with Pakistan, says Republican Jim McDermott, a Washington Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India.
The White House is pressing India for progress on the nuclear energy deal, signed in October, that would allow US companies, including GE and Westinghouse Electric Corp., a Monroeville, Pennsylvania, subsidiary of Tokyo-based Toshiba Corp., to compete for $175 billion (Rs8.54 trillion) in contracts to build and supply power plants.
Coordination with India still lags behind US cooperation with European allies and even China, says Feigenbaum, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “A lot is hinging on the Clinton visit and what comes after it.”