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The Rediff Special/ J N Dixit

Indo-US ties: Benign neglect and continued pressure?

In this article, exclusive to Rediff On The NeT, former foreign secretary J N Dixit examines the prospects for Indo-US relations during President Clinton's second term in office.

William Jefferson Clinton's second inaugural speech referred only marginally and at the macro-level to foreign policy. There were no country-specific, region-specific or issue-specific elaborations regarding the US's external intentions in this first policy statement commencing his second Presidential term. In a manner, Indo-US relations receded to the back burner in the governmental establishments of both India and the US since the Indian veto on the CTBT at the committee on disarmament last autumn and the political skirmishes which followed between the two countries at Washington, New Delhi and New York.

While a certain forward momentum was maintained in bilateral economic relations, contradictions in the economic policies of our United Front government and the resulting adulations of 'now we will, now we won't' regarding the processes of modernisation and liberalisation of the Indian economy have not helped matters much. An ambience of staticity permeated Indo-US relations towards the end of 1996. The focus of attention in the United States being on the Presidential election was also a contributing factor.

Now that Clinton has assumed charge and recruited his now foreign policy team and also that the new secretary of state has pronounced on her foreign policy orientations, it is time to examine the prospects of Indo-US relations. One is not presuming to indulge in political astrology, but speculating on the possibilities for which India will have to plan is pertinent.

First, some presumptions based on the existentialist realities! Clinton in his second term may show a little more interest in foreign policy and in regions where his attention was not focussed (previously) due to the foreign policy experience that he has gained during the first term.

Secondly, continuity in office uninhibited by considerations of having to face another election will make him more purposive about achieving the objectives of maintaining the US's global superiority. Safeguarding US economic interests and maintaining the US's technological domination of the world. Non-proliferation, missile control and related issues will have a high priority on his agenda.

Third, the US legislature will continue to be dominated by the Republicans at least during the first half of Clinton's second term. With Senator Helms as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee one should expect the US Congress orienting the Clinton administration more intensely towards as 'America first' policy.

Fourth, in Madeleine Albright, the country will find a more assertive and activist secretary of state who makes no bones about her convinction that the global order must conform to the US's ideologies, objectives and interests. It is also to be noted that the developing parts of the world, Asia and India perhaps do not interest her very much. Only China appears on her radar screen.

Fifth, the knowledgeable (?) Ms Robin Raphel has been replaced as assistant secretary for South Asian Affairs by Rick Inderfurth who used to be Albright's deputy at the UN. General information is that he does not have much experience regarding South Asia. So, would India face a policy of benign neglect combined with selective pressure being applied on us on issues like non-proliferation?

Some signals from the Indian ambassador in Washington, Naresh Chandra, indicate that this may not critically be the case. In a public review of Indo-US relations which he undertook on January 24, Chandra indicated that Clinton is likely to visit India some time between August 1997 and August 1998. If the visit takes place, it will certainly focus US attention on India. The visit would be the first by a US president after a gap of nearly 20 years since President Carter's visit.

Chandra also gave the assessment that the new national security adviser to Clinton, Sandy Berger, has shown an interest in India and that he might visit us during this year. Equally significant is the appointment of Thomas Pickering as under secretary of state for political affairs in Peter Tarnoff's place. Pickering was ambassador in New Delhi in 1993 and is therefore aware of Indian interests and concerns.

He, along with Strobe Talbott as deputy secretary of state, might balance Madeleine Albright's lack of interest in South Asia. William Cohen, the new defence secretary, according to preliminary assessment, has strategic perceptions underlining the importance of South Asia as a geo-political factor affecting US economic and security interests. This may result in continuity in Indo-US defence co-operation despite its limited scope.

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