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Indo-US ties adrift? No way, says Foreign Secretary Mathai

Last updated on: February 7, 2012 09:44 IST

Indo-US ties adrift? No way, says Foreign Secretary Mathai

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Ranjan Mathai, who is on his first trip to Washington, DC after taking over as India's foreign secretary, on Monday added his voice to the growing chorus of senior Indian and Barack Obama administration officials attempting to rebut the growing perception in recent months that the envisaged India-United States strategic partnership is adrift.
 
He was speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies -- a leading Washington, DC think-tank -- in an address titled Building on Convergences: Deepening India-US-Strategic Partnership.

He bemoaned that in the year since President Barack Obama's visit to India in 2010, despite remarkable developments in the bilateral relationship, "There are, in both countries, questions about the state and the direction of our relationship."
 
Mathai acknowledged, "Some of this comes from the fact that the relationship no longer derives its intensity and excitement from the pursuit of one transformational idea, and has matured into a solid, broad-based relationship."
 
"There are, of course, tangible issues -- in the US, worries about the commercial implementation of the civil nuclear agreement and lingering disappointment with one major defence contract; In India -- there is wariness that the relationship may be turning transactional, with an emphasis on immediate returns rather than upward trends," Mathai said.
 
Mathai also noted, "There is anxiety about protectionist trends in the US, especially in the IT industry that has been the bridge between our two economies so far. Developments in West Asia have raised questions on whether our approaches, if not interests, are consistent, at least in the immediate future."

Saying, "It is important to address these issues," the foreign secretary argued that "as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, the India-US civil nuclear initiative is a symbol, instrument and platform of a transformed India-US relationship," and declared, "We are committed to translating the success of our diplomatic partnership in changing the global nuclear order into an equally productive commercial cooperation in civil nuclear energy."

Reportage: Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

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Image: Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai


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'We are making continuous progress'

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Mathai said, "We have the reality of our law passed by our Parliament.  And, as we have said before, we will provide a level playing field to US companies, and are prepared to address specific concerns of US companies within the framework of that law."
 
He told the audience comprising policy wonks, Congressional aides, erstwhile and current administration officials and several captains of business and industry, "We have remained engaged and must now take practical steps to advance our cooperation, as we have done over the past year."
 
Mathai pointed out, "We have just had a round of discussions between our legal experts. The commencement of discussions between the Indian operator, NPCIL, and US companies in regard to an Early Works Agreement is an encouraging development."
 
Meanwhile, he argued, "Our defence procurement in India has to be based on the best techno-economic choice, in accordance with procurement guidelines, and it must also meet the test of Parliamentary scrutiny on procurement process -- an obligation not unfamiliar to you in Washington DC."
 
Mathai pointed out that although US defence manufacturers may have lost out on the $11 billion fighter aircraft deal, " It also bears repeating that our defence trade has gone from negligible levels a few years ago to a cumulative value of $ 9 billion in the last four-five years, and is set to expand further."
 
"On both sides, we are making continuous progress in understanding each other's procurement and approval process; extending our engagement from simple trade to technology transfer and joint research, development and production," he added.

Mathai recalled, "When I returned to Delhi last July to prepare for my current assignment, I had the good fortune to begin with the second India-US Strategic Dialogue, which Ambassador Nirupama Rao, then our foreign secretary, was coordinating so ably. I was struck by the depth and diversity of our partnership; the comfort and candour in our dialogue; and, the extensive support it enjoyed across a broad spectrum of public opinion, particularly among those looking to the future."
 
"Some of us are absorbed with the present which is of course a bridge to the future, but it became evident to me that what was perhaps unprecedented and novel in our relationship ten years ago is even right now part of the normal and the routine," he said.

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Image: Ambassador to US Nirupama Rao


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'We have the political momentum, public goodwill'

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Providing a laundry list of the developments in US-India relations since President Obama's visit, Mathai said, "We have sustained an unprecedented level of bilateral engagement, launched new strategic consultations that cover key regions of the world; begun our first trilateral consultation with Japan; advanced our cooperation on non-proliferation and nuclear security; deepened counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation; launched a new Homeland Security Dialogue;  made steady progress in our partnership on export controls, non-proliferation and nuclear security; concluded the largest defence deal yet in our bilateral relations, sustained exercises and broadened defence strategic dialogue;  taken forward the incipient cooperation for development in third countries, especially Africa; held a very successful higher education summit in Washington DC; and made innovation driven progress in areas such as clean energy, food security and healthcare."
 
He pointed out that the two nations, "resumed negotiations on a Bilateral Investment Treaty and expanded opportunities for economic cooperation through measures like the Infrastructure Debt Fund and tariff reductions on products with potential for bilateral trade."

Mathai reiterated, "Indeed, I do not think that we have had as much convergence, or spoken more transparently and extensively with each other, as we do now on some of the most important issues in our engagement: terrorism, and key regional issues,  Afghanistan, Myanmar and the future of Asia Pacific."
 
In the final analysis, he said, "Even if our two governments did nothing, it would still be an extraordinary relationship, because of the growing ties of kinship between our people and the vitality of private partnerships of enterprise, innovation, research and education across every field of human endeavour."
 
"But, I believe that we have the political momentum, public goodwill, a comprehensive architecture of engagement, comfort and confidence in the relationship, the experience of bold and ambitious undertakings, a proven capacity to work through challenges and, as we have seen in recent years, a growing habit of taking tangible steps on a regular basis to advance our cooperation," he said.

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Image: A file photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with US President Barack Obama


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