A relationship in mid-course

A relationship in mid-course

Perhaps it was too much to expect that US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s visit would be “spectacular". There were no big announcements, no major political initiatives. Overall, the relationship remains friendly, but there are visible irritants.

The first irritant, one which neither side wants to speak about openly, is that of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) tightening guidelines for export of nuclear enrichment and reprocessing technologies (ENR). This was done by NSG with the US taking the lead. What this does, irrespective of official denials, is to whittle down the “clean waiver" given to India. Minus the ENR technologies, all India can get are nuclear reactors and uncertain fuel supplies. This is, at best, a trade deal and not a political recognition of what India sought.

Then there are differences in regional outlook and priorities. India is surrounded by what can only be called “difficult places". Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are either non-democracies or only have pretensions to democracy. The three are also sites of competition between New Delhi and Beijing for influence and the former seems to be on a difficult wicket. The US would like India to champion human rights and democracy. For obvious reasons, India cannot go very far in doing that.

The third issue is that of Iran. Under US pressure, India has nearly shot itself in the foot: It has shut down an established payment route for oil trade between the two countries. Now the Iranians have threatened to cut off supplies. Not only is shifting to alternative suppliers cumbersome, but India also loses a time-trusted friend.

Of the three, had Washington been more reasonable on the NSG-related issue, give and take elsewhere—for example, in talks with Pakistan, again under US pressure—would have been, on balance, tolerable. Now the returns are incommensurate with what has been given away. Pakistan has broken the link between talks and terrorism: the latter can continue without any effect on the former. India needs to carefully evaluate what the Americans want and what it can afford to give.

Stagnation or contentment: what best describes the state of Indo-US relations? Tell us at views@livemint.com