US out to ease India concerns

Afp June 02, 2010

WASHINGTON: The US will try to reassure India that it remains at the top of its priority list as the two countries hold talks on Wednesday on stepping up cooperation around the world.

US President Barack Obama has voiced support for warming ties between the world’s two largest democracies but focused on fighting extremism in Pakistan, raising alarm in India about the flow of US resources to its historic rival.

Senior US official William Burns acknowledged that some Indians were worried the US saw India through the prism of ties with Pakistan or cared less about New Delhi than the other rising Asian power, China.

“Let me speak plainly to those concerns – this administration has been, and will remain, deeply committed to supporting India’s rise and to building the strongest possible partnership between us,” said Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs.

Burns said a strong India was “in the strategic interest of the US,” with the two countries in agreement on global issues ranging from promoting democracy to reducing poverty.

“Never has there been a moment when partnership between India and America mattered more to the rest of the globe,” he said.

Burns, the top US career diplomat, will hold talks with his Indian counterpart, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. The two-day meetings will expand  till Thursday to include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister S M Krishna.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash, previewing the talks, said the two countries shared a “common objective of promoting peace, stability and economic development in the region and beyond.”

The Obama administration has increasingly turned to “strategic dialogues” of this sort to show its commitment to broadening relationships with key nations.

The US held such talks with Pakistan in March, hoping to dent the country’s rampant anti-Americanism by showing that Washington was interested in ties beyond just cooperation on its war against the Taliban and its Al-Qaeda allies in Afghanistan and the lawless border region with Pakistan.

The United States approved a 7.5 billion dollar package last year for Pakistan to build infrastructure and democratic institutions. Washington has also praised what it sees as Islamabad’s growing determination to fight Taliban insurgents.

But the Obama administration says it will press Pakistan to also take the battle to rabidly anti-Indian militants on its soil such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was linked to the 2008 siege of Mumbai.

Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, said the United States “has consistently called for greater action on the part of Pakistan to stop the activities of these groups.”

In November, Obama invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the honour of the first state dinner of his presidency.

But some Indian policymakers look nostalgically at former president George W Bush, who worked to build relations between New Delhi and Washington and end decades of Cold War-era mistrust.

Bush spearheaded a landmark agreement that allowed India access to civilian nuclear technology despite its nuclear weapons program and refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, said some Indians were still “anxious” about Obama.

“They worry that we are sidling up too closely to the Pakistanis,” he said.

But he discounted fears that the relationship would suffer for the lack of a new initiative such as the nuclear deal.

“Every time the president meets with a leader of Germany or France or Britain or Canada, you don’t have to have a big breakthrough,” Hathaway said.

“The very fact that we don’t have to have a big thing really suggests that the relationship is finally beginning to mature,” he added. afp

Published in the Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2010.


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