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'India has vital role in international stability'

April 07, 2006 21:52 IST

"India's role in helping foster and maintain international stability is vital," said US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher in New Delhi Friday.

Expressing confidence that the India-US nuclear deal would be passed by Congress, he said it was part of a 'fundamentally new relationship with India. It's about meeting energy needs, and it's about stabilising the region'.

He was answering questions after speaking on 'The US-India Friendship: Where we were and where we're going' at a meeting at the Confederation of Indian Industries headquarters in New Delhi.

While relations with India would never be at the expense of China, he said 'we have had a difficult history of relations with China as well' and Washington's goal was to make China an responsible stakeholder in the international arena - "We met the Chinese team at the meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna recently, and remain hopeful."

Debunking media reports that Washington had put its weight behind the King of Nepal, he said there was no logic behind such assertions - "The path of the King leads nowhere, and what he did in February was a travesty of democracy. But the Maoists are not helpful either, they are nasty people, so we are trying to pressure the King to restore democracy and work with the Indian government on this."

Nepal was discussed earlier in the day during his meeting with Foreign Secretary Shaym Saran, who has just returned from Washington, and also during the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush in New Delhi.

Earlier, noting that this was his first solo visit to new Delhi barely months after assuming his new job, he said that while his brief included Central Asia, "There's absolutely no question that much of my focus in the coming months and years will remain on nurturing the bilateral relationship between our two great countries, India and the United States."

"This is an epic journey with historic implications, and that's why my speech has the same form as an epic poem, starring in the past, joining with the present and then moving into the future. Don't be alarmed, however, my speech is somewhat shorter than the Ramayana," he smiled.

Speaking on 'how we arrived here', he said that 'since India's independence, our interaction has been marked by cooperation, estrangement, and occasionally, indifference'.

But today, 'I believe the relationship has entered an entirely different phase', and  'years from now, when people gather to discuss our relationship, they will remark upon the across the board transformation of US India relations that took place in the first decade of the 21st century'.

This was the result of a 'changing world, changes taking place both in India and the United States', he said. "India is emerging as a major power thanks to fundamentally sound decisions you have made about the kind of country India should be. This is a good thing not only for India but for us all, economically, politically, and in other vital areas."

Arguing for further opening up of the Indian economy, he said 'every excess regulation, form and process is a drag on economic development, which increases business uncertainty and becomes and opportunity for corruption'.

"We hear frequently that America must surely be promoting ties with India as a counterbalance to China. I reject this kind of zero-sum thinking as too simplistic. Both can be important stakeholders in the international system. Are American businessmen pouring into bangalore, Hyderabad and other Indian cities to counter China," he asked.

"China are building a business relationship with India because India's attarctiveness stands on its own merits. So rather than seeing India as countering a communist china, we see India as the essential engine of economic progress and democracy that enhances stable development from the Middle East to Far East," he said.

Boucher, who assumed office just a week before President Bush's trip to India, said that while the hard work of preparing for visit was 'safely behind us, I believe that the work ahead of us is even more important. Realising the promise of this partnership, and making it benefit Americans, and Indians, the region, and the rest of the world, is the roughest work'.

"But if we can come to an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation—and we did after struggling with the issue for 30 years, we can do anything," he said.

On the nuclear issue, 'we, and the previous administrations, have pushed for India to further define its minimum credible deterrent, and we continue that today,' he said.

But 'we understand the complexity of this task, having spent 40 years in discussion with the former Soviet Union over our nuclear weapons progammes. We also understand that the such discussions are complicated by China's intentions and by Iran's energetic pursuit of technologies that underlie nuclear weapons. But nevertheless, we see this as an absolutely necessary step toward decreasing tension in India. We look not only to India, but to Pakistan, to work out mutual understandings  to build confidence in both conventional areas'.

He then expressed confidence in the India-Pakistan peace process, but urged both sides to press for further progress, 'and achieve the unlimited potential that occurs when two neighbors trade openly and freely with each other'.

"As you can see, the possibilities of what we can do together is limitless. There's a big agenda in US-India relations and a lot to do. When she offered me this job, Secretary Rice told me that it was the most exciting place to be working. It's not only an exciting place, but an exciting time that can changes the lives of our children and grandchildren. I am happy to be here with you at this important moment," he concluded.

Complete coverage:

Ramananda Sengupta in New Delhi