|(Top) Kerry and Mathai
Washington, Feb. 22: John Kerry took to Twitter yesterday to hail relations with India and proclaimed in his first tweet as America’s new secretary of state that foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai is his “friend”.
On the substantive side at the first foreign office-level meeting since new ministers for external affairs took office both in New Delhi and Washington, Kerry asked searching questions of Mathai for more information about yesterday’s terrorist bomb blasts in Hyderabad.
Kerry then tweeted his “sympathies to brave people of Hyderabad”. He clearly resisted the temptation in his maiden tweet to sign off as “JFK” although his middle name, Forbes, qualified him to be another JFK from Massachusetts. He simply used his personal signature “JK” on the state department’s Twitter handle.
“Saw friend/Foreign Secretary Mathai — discussed importance of relationship w/#India, expressed sympathies to brave people of #Hyderabad–JK,” his full tweet read. A state department spokesperson said the “JK tag indicates that secretary Kerry personally wrote the message.”
Because the meeting between the secretary of state and the foreign secretary took place within a few hours of the bombings in Hyderabad, Mathai was unable to give the Americans very much by way of details than what he had gathered on television.
Since Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde himself has subsequently been unable to throw much light on the circumstances surrounding the bomb blasts, the Americans have confined themselves to the need to redouble bilateral cooperation with India in counter-terrorism.
Privately, the Americans have been appalled that critical evidence in Hyderabad was wiped off by VIPs and the media who were allowed free access to the blast site before investigating agencies had opportunities to secure the crime scene.
In the US, first responders in such situations immediately cordon off crime scenes and deny permission for anyone to violate the sterility of evidentiary sites, howsoever important they may be.
If the foreign secretary came to Washington looking for the next frontier in Indo-US relations similar to the nuclear deal in 2005, there were indications that he found threads of such initiatives in Obama’s second administration that the two sides could work on.
From that point of view, Mathai’s meetings with the deputy secretary of energy, Daniel Poneman, and the under secretary of state for economic growth, energy and environment, Robert Hormats, may have been more rewarding than Kerry’s political signal that he valued ties with India.
The discussions with Poneman and Hormats will be fleshed out when the next round of the annual Indo-US Strategic Dialogue is held in New Delhi, most likely in mid-June. If a time-table discussed here yesterday is followed up, it is possible that liquefied natural gas from the US could flow into India within three years, helping to meet India’s crying energy needs and in reducing global gas prices.
Mathai touched on the prospects in this sector when he spoke at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here yesterday. “Your interest in exporting natural gas and intention to export to non-FTA (Free Trade Agreement) countries, even if just agreed upon, would help stabilise internationally-traded LNG prices which are at historic highs.”
He dangled before Americans the prospects of both Indian investments and a chance to reduce New Delhi’s dependence on countries like Iran for its energy needs without naming any energy sources. “Indian investment in the oil and gas sectors will not only help add to energy transportation linkages, but also to refining and shipment facilities here. Long-term partnerships between us in energy will also help us in India diversify our sources of supply much more globally.”
There were also indications that the “Singh-Obama Knowledge Initiative”, which had raised great expectations when it was once announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama, may be about to show results. Under Kapil Sibal, the previous minister in charge of the initiative, it had produced more sound than substance.
“Earlier this month, we made a good beginning with a special event focusing on creating community colleges and how they would work in India,” Mathai said in his Carnegie speech. “As many as 12 American community colleges were represented, for which under secretary (of state for public diplomacy Tara) Sonnenshine visited India.… We also need to develop specific immediately-employable skills. We need better community colleges in India.”
If America’s military industrial complex is pleased with the turn of events in India’s now-rocky decision to buy European helicopters for VVIP transport from AgustaWestland, they did not show it.
But the bribery scandal clearly advances the prospects of US companies which are seeking a bigger share of the Indian armaments trade. The only other contender in the final phase of the VVIP helicopter tender was America’s Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.
Defence co-operation figured during a meeting in Munich this month between national security adviser Shivshankar Menon and US deputy secretary of state William Burns. As a follow-up, a meeting is to be held in New Delhi next month between Pentagon officials and an inter-agency team from Indian ministries to discuss the roadblocks in acquiring high technology weapons from the US.
The meeting is a follow-up to last year’s decision by the Obama administration to appoint Ashton Carter, its deputy defence secretary, to suggest changes in US arms supply systems and export controls and streamline bureaucratic procedures.