| George W. Bush at a news conference in Monterrey, Mexico. (AFP)
Washington, Jan. 13: With Washington’s non-proliferation noose tightening around Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Libya, President George W. Bush stepped in personally yesterday to make an exception in India’s case.
Citing the imperative of increasing “stability in Asia and beyond”, Bush took the unusual step of announcing while travelling abroad that he and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had agreed to broaden their dialogue on missile defence.
“The US and India agree to expand cooperation in three specific areas: civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programmes and high-technology trade,” Bush said in a statement issued in Mexico, where he was attending the Summit of the Americas.
He said: “In November 2001, Prime Minister Vajpayee and I committed our countries to a strategic partnership. Since then, our two countries have strengthened bilateral cooperation significantly in several areas. Today, we announce the next steps in implementing our shared vision.”
In less than an hour after the statement, a senior state department official cautioned here that Bush’s announcement did not amount to “diminishing (US) concerns about India’s nuclear weapons or missile programmes”.
He said the administration was not seeking changes in US domestic laws on non-proliferation or moving away from America’s international obligations.
The official’s caution is aimed at defusing potential dissent from several constituencies here and abroad. The US has a strong non-proliferation lobby.
At forums like the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, where Washington has been doggedly pursuing a hard line on North Korea and Iran, eyebrows will, doubtless, be raised over the Bush administration’s soft line on India.
Israel is the only other country whose proliferation record has been overlooked by successive administrations here.
Pakistan is bound to raise Cain, at least in private dialogue with the Americans. A middle-level state department official, who was present at yesterday’s briefing, clarified that Islamabad had been notified in advance of the announcement.
Pakistan is also being offered a dialogue on missile defence, but not on any of the other three topics on which the US is engaging India.
Bush’s statement is seen here as an attempt by the White House to gloss over India’s opposition to the war in Iraq and Delhi’s alliance with other developing countries in the World Trade Organisation.
The statement was hastily issued so that external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, who arrives here next week, and his US interlocutors could start on a clean slate.
The senior state department official said an Indian delegation, here recently, had insisted that the statement should be released quickly.
Bush said: “The vision of US-India strategic partnership that Prime Minister Vajpayee and I share is now becoming a reality.”
But he hedged it with the provision that “the proposed cooperation will progress through a series of reciprocal steps that will build on each other. It will include expanded engagement on nuclear regulatory and safety issues and missile defence, ways to enhance cooperation in peaceful uses of space technology and steps to create the appropriate environment for successful high-technology commerce”.
It means India will be required to strengthen export control laws, create safeguards against diversion of dual-use goods and technology and prevent onward proliferation.
Once these are done, the licensing for supplying high-technology goods will be easier.