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'Challenge would be to live up to all Obama said'

Last updated on: November 12, 2010 12:48 IST

'Challenge would be to live up to all Obama said'

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United States President Barack Obama not just met, but beat India's expectations, feel two veteran career diplomats who between the two of them have over four decades of service in the Indian subcontinent, reports Aziz Haniffa.

Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and Walter Andersen, associate director of the South Asian Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, told India Abroad that the challenge would be to live up to all that was said and done.

On the economic front, Schaffer said, "Obama's role was to announce rather than create new developments the deals unveiled during his visit represent between 50 and 75 percent of a year's US exports to India at current rates."

The real message, she said, "Is that the economic relationship is largely a private sector affair, that it's growing dynamically, and that it is big enough to keep the overall relationship moving forward, regardless of what the two governments do."

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Image: US President Barack Obama greets students at a town hall meeting at a college in Mumbai
Photographs: Danish Siddique/Reuters
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'Announcements that mark the change in policy for both govts'

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She pointed out the significance of two major United States government decisions that would accelerate this process.

"First, three important Indian organisations are being removed from the Entities List. This means that the Indian Space Research Organisation, the Defence Research and Development Organisation and Bharat Dynamics Limited will now be eligible to trade with the US.

Second, India will be 'realigned' in the US export control regulations -- meaning that it will be put into a more favourable category," she explained.

"US export controls already had been much reduced in the past five years and these latest announcements further reduce their impact."

Besides of course Obama's endorsement of India's bid for a permanent United Nations Security Council seat, Schaffer said the US announcement would strongly support full Indian membership in the four multilateral export control regimes -- the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement -- "is a change in policy for both governments."


Image: President Obama speaks with PM Dr Singh during their state dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan
Photographs: Jason Reed/Reuters
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'US sees India as a key player throughout Asia'

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On the regional front, she added, that India was the first stop in an itinerary focused on Asian democracies not only "underscores the importance of Asia in US foreign policy, but it also emphasises that the US sees India as a key player throughout Asia -- South as well as East."

Besides Obama's strong words on Pakistan being "much welcomed in India," what was also important, Schaffer said, was that "he and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh both emphasised the US and Indian stake in a stable and peaceful Pakistan."

She said there was agreement that the US and India "need to continue consulting on Afghanistan and Pakistan," but acknowledged that while both Washington and New Delhi "share similar visions of what an ideal outcome looks like, some aspects of US policy, including its logistical dependent on Pakistan, still make India uncomfortable."

On the biggest news of the trip -- US endorsement of India in the Security Council -- Schaffer said, "This is a recognition of India's importance in shaping the world of the 21st century It is also the beginning of a long and difficult path forward."

But "if it succeeds," she said, "the US and India will need to find new ways to cooperate, different from our difficult history of our dealings in the United Nations."


Image: President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet students at a town hall meeting at a Mumbai college
Photographs: Danish Siddique/Reuters
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'Obama visit removed any lingering doubts in India about US'

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Andersen is perhaps the only American policy wonk well plugged-in to the inner workings of the main Indian opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and is close to the BJP and its parent body the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, ever since the publication of his seminal book The Brotherhood of Saffron.

He said immediately Obama had finished his speech to the Parliament, "I received an e-mail from a very senior BJP central leader that he -- and by implication the party -- really appreciated President Obama's speech and that it clarified US policy, corrected several misconceptions and gave the impression that the US genuinely considered India an international actor of importance whose strategic interests were very similar to those of the US."

Andersen said Obama's endorsement of India in the Security Council was "an unambiguous and clear message to Indians that the US is serious about cementing a strategic relationship" and that "the US acknowledges the growing role of India on the world stage."

He said the Entities List modification also took care "of any lingering doubts in India about the US."


Image: President Obama and US first lady Michelle Obama walk from Marine One to Air Force One in Mumbai
Photographs: Jason Reed/Reuters
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Obama's message to China: US has other friends in Asia

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On the UN issue, Andersen acknowledged that India is highly unlikely to change its position on Iran and Burma, "given the important issues at stake both strategically and economically," and these differences with Washington could pose challenges.

"With these countries," Andersen explained, "India balances a genuine concern for human rights with strategic concerns about China -- in the case of Burma -- and access to vital oil resources, with regard to Iran."

About Obama declaring that Pakistan must dismantle terrorist camps within its borders and bring to justice those responsible for the Mumbai attacks, Andersen said, "This open statement about the terrorist threat is not new, but it publicly responds to those Indians complaining about the muted US response to terrorist groups that operate on Pakistani soil."

With Pakistan, he added, Obama has to "walk a fine line to balance these genuine concerns with the importance geography gives Pakistan in the effort to defeat the terrorists -- military supplies to Afghanistan go mainly through the port of Karachi and the destroying of the safe havens ultimately depends on Pakistani military efforts."

On Kashmir, Andersen said Obama did get the message across that this festering problem has to be resolved. "He therefore, spoke out for Indo-Pakistani talks, though he has been careful in this visit to deny any US effort to involve itself in seeking a resolution of the Kashmir issue."

Andersen said perhaps what had the utmost geopolitical significance in terms of Obama's visit was that "it almost certainly was sending a message to an assertive China that the US has other friends in Asia."

But, Andersen warned, "This hedging policy works only as long as China does not conclude that the US and India are seeking to hem it in and undermine its security."


Image: US President Obama and Indian PM Dr Singh wave after Obama arrived at New Delhi's airport
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters
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