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Rediff.com  » News » Shyam Saran to address Brookings conference on nuke deal

Shyam Saran to address Brookings conference on nuke deal

March 20, 2009 10:10 IST

Former Indian Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, who was the original interlocutor of the US-India civilian nuclear deal negotiations with erstwhile US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, will headline a major conference this week on the expectations and consequences of the US-India Nuclear Agreement, hosted by The Brookings Institution, and funded wholly by a leading Indian American venture capitalist, Ranvir Trehan.

Trehan, was one of the significant behind-the-scenes players in the Indian American community's lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill under the banner of the US-India Friendship Council led by North Carolina entrepreneur Swadesh Chatterjee, and was a key sponsor of the Congressional receptions and other fund-raising efforts for influential lawmakers who led the effort in the US House and Senate to push through the deal.

"One reason for sponsoring this event is that the nuclear agreement is a watershed milestone in US-India relations both substantively and symbolically," Trehan told rediff.com, and added, "We want to see India move forward with narrowing its energy gap with this form of energy as others including renewables."

He said, "So far, and for some time to come, we think the the Obama Administration is immersed and rightly so, in tackling the financial problems that have hit us squarely, so they are not devoting much time to other matters. I believe it is for India to proceed as fast as they wish and they will not encounter obstacles here—or so I hope."

Trehan said all of the speakers "are chosen by Brookings, an institution that I respect and on whose Advisory Council I have the honor to serve on."

The conference will be moderated by Stephen P Cohen, who heads up the South Asia Program at Brookings and will also feature opening remarks by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.

Saran, who will deliver the luncheon keynote address, will be introduced by former Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration Strobe Talbott, who is now president of Brookings, and was among the nonproliferation hawks who opposed the deal arguing that it would undermine the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in particular and the nonproliferation regime in general.

Cohen told rediff.com that "Trehan wanted to help us do something big and timely, and we settled on the future of the US-India nuclear deal, looking at a whole range of implications--economic, environmental, military, diplomatic, energy, etc." He said that "we settled on Shyam Saran to be the featured speaker because he was the original player on the Indian side. He knew it from the beginning and we thought if we could get him, we'd get a guy who could tell us the origins of this from the Indian side as well as since he still has an official role, the latest status report."

Saran, after being succeeded as Foreign Secretary, nearly two years ago, is now Special Envoy to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Disarmament and Climate Change, but during the run-up to the vote by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, met with several of the key players in the NSG to lobby for their vote in favor of the deal.

Cohen said, "I want this workshop to look forward, in a sense, what's the next step and how can the Obama Administration clear up the details, what is the likely expectation regarding India's nonproliferation policy, how does India fit into a larger US strategic picture now that it's been dramatically changed or will dramatically change."

Elaborating, he said, "In addition to the new team, which are a lot of the Clinton Administration nonproliferation types, Obama has also indicated that it is not Iraq that the center of American policy, but it's Afghanistan and Pakistan.So, we'll be looking forward to Shyam's take on this," Cohen added.

This will expected to be particularly of interest to policymakers and South Asia watchers here because Saran recently left many foreign policy experts somewhat puzzled when he apparently seemed to have second thoughts about India's pro-US tilt in its foreign policy.

Saran said that "India needs to be geared up for a more diffused and decentralized complex international landscape, with the US enjoying significantly diminished predominance" and that New Delhi needs desperately to "hedge its foreign policy in view of the Sino-US strategy convergence," as the US is embarking on an unprecedented diplomatic offensive to co-opt Beijing in its economic recovery.

"China is being invited to participate in the fashioning of new global governance structures and have a major voice in the management, if not resolution, of major regional conflicts," he said.

Besides the two keynotes by Saran and Steinberg, the conference will include panels on Energy, Economic and Technological Implications, Nonproliferation and Strategic Implications, and US-India Relations after the Nuclear Agreement.

Among some of the panelists are Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, Research Fellow, Cato Institute, James Clad, professor of Near East and South Asian Studies at the National Defense University, Amandeep Singh Gill, visiting scholar, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, George Perkovich, head of the nonproliferation studies center at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Julie Unmatch, counsel, House Foreign Affairs Committee, Jonah Blank, Chief Policy Advisor for South Asia, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation, and T P Sreenivasan, former Indian Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency and ex Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian Embassy in Washington.

Besides Cohen, the other moderators will be Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at Brookings, Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, also at Brookings, and Karl F Inderfurth, director, Graduate Program in International Affairs at George Washington University and former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs in the Clinton Administration.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC