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Bush looks beyond nukes

Washington, Sept. 21: The vista of Indo-US friendship will no longer be blurred by differences between Washington and New Delhi over the latter’s nuclear programme. Nor by the slow pace of India’s economic reforms.

Less than 10 days after meeting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New York, President George W. Bush said yesterday: “Differences remain, including over the development of India’s nuclear and missile programs, and the pace of India’s economic reforms. But while in the past these concerns may have dominated our thinking about India, today we start with a view of India as a growing world power with which we have common strategic interests.”

The unequivocal statement of intent on future relations with India is significant because the two countries are on the threshold of unprecedented cooperation in hitherto banned areas of civilian nuclear activities, space, dual use technology trade and in the restricted sphere of defence.

The US under-secretary for commerce in charge of export administration, Kenneth I. Juster, is due in New Delhi in November for talks to initiate such cooperation.

But the ground for Juster’s talks will be prepared during a series of meetings between Indian and US officials. Some of these meetings will also see a resumption of the nuclear dialogue between the two countries, which was started after the 1998 nuclear tests, but have been practically stalled for two years.

Bush asserted that “the US has undertaken a transformation in its bilateral relationship with India based on a conviction that US interests require a strong relationship with India”.

His comments were made in a 35-page document called The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, which the President is required to send to the Congress every year.

Yesterday’s is the first submission of its kind since Bush assumed office and has been heavily dictated by the imperatives of the September 11 terrorist attacks and its aftermath.

In references to India, Bush made the point that “we are the two largest democracies, committed to political freedom protected by representative government. India is moving toward greater economic freedom as well. We have a common interest in the free flow of commerce, including through the vital sea lanes of the Indian Ocean. Finally, we share an interest in fighting terrorism and in creating a strategically stable Asia”.

His prescription for dealing with continuing differences —which abound — is not the Cold War practice of blaming or criticising one another.

“Through a strong partnership with India, we can best address any differences and shape a dynamic future,” Bush said.

He cited the example of how “strong relations” with India and Pakistan “gave us leverage to play a constructive role when tensions in the (South Asian) region became acute”.

He said “our involvement in this regional dispute, building on earlier investments in bilateral relations, looks first to concrete steps by India and Pakistan that can help defuse military confrontation...With Pakistan, our bilateral relations have been bolstered by Pakistan’s choice to join the war against terror and move toward building a more open and tolerant society”.

The President was, by comparison, much more effusive about India. “The administration sees India’s potential to become one of the great democratic powers of the 21st century and has worked hard to transform our relationship accordingly.”

A week after India, Russia and China activated their much-talked-about trilateral partnership, the strategy report to Congress showed signs of worry about any possible revival Cold War-type alliances.

Speaking on behalf of all three foreign ministers after their trilateral meeting in New York, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov had said the partnership was informal and not any power bloc.

Bush, however, said in his report: “We are attentive to the possible renewal of old patterns of great power competition. Several potential great powers are now in the midst of internal transition — most importantly Russia, India and China. In all three cases, recent developments have encouraged our hope that a truly global consensus about basic principles is slowly taking shape.”

The report is a preamble to the Bush administration’s policy of seeking unchallenged military superiority worldwide and buries the Cold War era foundations of American policy based on deterrence and containment.

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