Fresh start clears way for regular summits
Rajghat slippers too small for Big Bill
Media caught in Ficci-govt crossfire
India, US unveil pact on science
Pakistan sees peace messiah in President
‘For India and the US, this is the day of new begi

New Delhi, March 21 
Marking a new beginning in bilateral relations, India and the US today agreed to institutionalise dialogue at all levels, starting with “regular” summits between the American President and the Indian Prime Minister for a “closer and qualitatively” new relation between the two countries.

Leaders of the two countries have agreed to be in “close touch” over telephone, through letters and to meet even on the sidelines of multilateral meetings.

It is significant that the two countries have agreed to do this despite differences on the nuclear question. The US insists that India give up its nuclear programme and Delhi feels that it needed to have a minimum nuclear deterrent. But as part of the new bonhomie, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has agreed to visit Washington later this year at the invitation of Bill Clinton.

In an acknowledgement of India’s growing importance not only in the region but in the world, the Americans have agreed to a dialogue with the Indians on Asian security. This is in addition to the security dialogue that Jaswant Singh has been holding with US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott to “harmonise” the two sides’ position on the nuclear and disarmament issues.

The countries will also have regular foreign secretary-level consultations and will continue to cooperate on counter-terrorism. The first such meeting was held in Washington last month.

It is significant that the US now considers India an important player in Asia, a role which it had so far identified for China. It is a marked departure from the earlier American stand and it would help India in breaking out of its South-Asia niche-identity and allows it to play a more meaningful role for stability in Asia.

Clinton, who described his visit to the country as “long overdue”, said he has come to “build a dynamic and lasting partnership, based on mutual respect and mutual benefit”. He added: “India and America should be better friends and stronger partners.” He stressed that Washington has neglected its relationship with Delhi for two decades. “I am committed to building a stronger partnership and we are committed to building a better world.”

The President’s remarks were made soon after signing a “vision statement” with Vajpayee at Hyderabad House. The document identifies the shared democratic tradition and the rich ethnic and religious mix of the two countries and charts out a map for them to work closely as equal partners.

Vajpayee described Clinton’s visit as “a unique opportunity for a historic transformation in our relations”. Vajpayee, who met Clinton first for a one-to-one lasting nearly 45 minutes, and followed it up with a delegation-level talk where senior members of his government were present, said he had a “very productive” session where he exchanged in-depth views with Clinton on many subjects.

While the US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, national security advisor Sandy Berger and Strobe Talbott were among the officials in the American delegation, the Indian side had Jaswant Singh, Brajesh Mishra, L.K. Advani, George Fernandes, Yashwant Sinha and Murasoli Maran.

The talks centred around bilateral issues, but emphasis was also given on cooperation in information technology, environment and knowledge-based technology. Discussions were held on disarmament and lifting of US sanctions.

Though the differences on the nuclear issue persisted, both sides agreed that nuclear weapons should be eliminated ultimately and both would work together to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In a move which indicates the attempt to broaden the relationship, the two sides have agreed to start an institutionalised bilateral economic dialogue. There will be a coordinating group to help develop a common economic agenda.

The institutionalised dialogue will have an financial and economic forum, a commercial dialogue and a working group on trade.    

New Delhi, March 21 
Bill Clinton is too big for India’s boots.

Stepping out of his six-door limousine at Rajghat, the President tried out the pair of canvas slippers placed before his feet. But they wouldn’t fit.

Clinton tried twice, then gave up. He looked around and said to no one in particular that if he tried to force his feet in, the canvas would come off.

Clinton stepped out in his socks. Junior foreign minister Ajit Panja had to follow suit.

As the President and his daughter Chelsea headed for the Mahatma’s samadhi, a discreet Panja followed a couple of feet behind, wearing only socks.

The barbs were quick to follow. “They (Rajghat authorities) could not even find the right pair of slippers for Clinton,” whispered someone in the Indian security ring. But the President missed the criticism as it was in Hindi.

At the Ashoka Hotel lunch, Clinton had for company Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi, Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi, former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, painter M.F. Husain, sitar maestro Ravi Shankar and India caucus chief Gary Ackerman.

Critics of the government said the President paid more attention to Sonia, the only lady at the table. They added that Balayogi did not utter a word. Even Clinton could not force a temporary truce between political rivals: Sonia and Rao did not speak to each other.

Barring mutton korma, chicken dopiaza and a lamb preparation especially put together for Clinton, the spread was tilted heavily to suit the vegetarian palate. The soup, a mixed vegetable preparation, sambhar, dal and dahi vada could not have delighted Clinton who had his fill at Bukhara in Maurya Sheraton the night he landed. But he did enjoy the sitar recital by Debu Chowdhury.

The hotel management had set up small, round tables for six for the 100-plus guests. Jaswant Singh’s friend Strobe Talbott had to share his with Panja. All tables were named after rivers, with the largest aptly called Ganga.

Panja found Talbott looking at the jalebi suspiciously. The jalebi, Panja said, might look crooked but it was wonderful to eat.

Except for failing to step into the shoes, Clinton did not trouble the Indians at all. At the ceremonial reception in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, he stood upright as the two national anthems were played out.

In a dark suit with a mustard-coloured tie, the immaculately dressed President took the guard of honour to Dwijendralal Roy’s Dhana Dhanye Pushpe Bhara.

At Rajghat, Chelsea asked Panja what the song Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram, being played out softly, meant. Panja explained that the Mahatma would sing the song at all prayer meetings and that its words expressed the oneness of all religions.

Seeing Clinton looking at the two words “Hey Ram” inscribed in Hindi on the samadhi, Panja said: “Your excellency, these were the last words of the Father of the Nation and it means ‘Oh God’.” Father and daughter, deeply moved, said almost in unison: “Oh God.”

Clinton shook his head for a while in silence. While leaving, he wrote in the visitors’ book: “Thank you for keeping this place sacred.” The President also planted a white magnolia sapling.

“What a coincidence,” he said, “back home in White House, there is a white magnolia plant which still blooms.”

Clinton inquired about the mango tree near the entrance to the samadhi. He was told that it was planted by Marshal Tito and the Ashoka tree next to it was a gift from Jawaharlal Nehru.

Strains of another of Gandhi’s favourite hymns, Vaishnavajanato, wafted out as the President’s cavalcade moved out for the big meeting at Hyderabad House.    

Mumbai, March 21 
In an embarrassing face-off between the Maharashtra government and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), the latter has refused to allow the former even a one minute presentation on investment opportunities in the state during President Bill Clinton’s meeting with the top echelons of the industry.

In retaliation, the Maharashtra government decided not to issue security passes to the domestic and international media to cover the event and stated that it was now upto Ficci to decide on coverage for President Clinton’s most important engagement in Mumbai.

According to government sources, the state government had put together a “comprehensive package” consisting of a slideshow and a CD-ROM package which was to be presented to the chief of media relations of the White House.

Praveen Pardesi, in the chief minister’s secretariat, said: “With Chandrababu Naidu’s Cyberabad” getting so much attention, we wanted to present our case. Our strong points are that we have cut down on subsidies, reduced land rates and have the ideal getaway.”

“The explanation itself is ironical and is reflective of how a state like Maharashtra has gone down in the wish list of countries waiting to make investments here. As far as us refusing to give the government time, there is simply no time”, a Ficci representative said.

The entire function is of fifty minutes duration of which President Clinton alone is expected to speak for forty five minutes. The meet organised by the Indo-US business council, with Ficci as the co-hosts, is also likely to be shifted from Hotel Oberoi to the Bombay Municipal Corporation.

After several rounds of meetings, senior officials of the government handling the President’s visit, headed by chief secretary Arun Bongirwar, met today and finally decided not to involve itself with the Ficci meet. After the meeting, director general, information, Sanjay Chahande said: “That meeting is Ficci’s responsibility. We have nothing to do with it.”

Asked why this turnaround took place, he said: “Ask Ficci.” The government has decided to ready itself for a tentative programme on Clinton’s schedule —— a visit to the Café Royal hotel near the Regal theatre to get a feel of Bombay’s pulse. The hotel’s discotheque, HQ, is being readied for the President.

It is almost decided that Bill Clinton will travel by road from the Sahar international airport where he will be received to Hotel Oberoi Towers. This is because no suitable landing strip was found by his security agencies for his helicopter to land at the naval airbase at Colaba or at the private airstrip of the Ruias of the Essel group. Landing at Raj Bhavan was ruled out because the road from there to the hotel is not very wide.

Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh will be at the airport and will be present at all functions, including the Ficci function but “only as one of the guests”.

After so much of hype, the government, unlike Naidu’s Andhra Pradesh, is getting very little out of the visit. Clinton will hardly see the sights and sounds of the city nor will he visit places that the government presents as symbols of the country’s future.    

New Delhi, March 21 
India and the US today came closer in the field of science and technology. Union human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi signed an agreement with US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, which would help set up an Indo-US science and technology forum.

The objective is to “facilitate and promote the interaction of government, academia and industry in science, technology and other related areas”.

According to the agreement, the forum will focus on issues of common concern and activities of mutual benefit while exploring trends in science and technology.

The forum will promote “research and development, the transfer of technology, creation of a comprehensive electronic reference source for Indo-US science and technology, cooperation and the electronic exchange and dissemination of information on Indo-US science and technology cooperation”.

This agreement comes despite a continuing ban on 150 odd Indian organisations from doing business with US companies. It may be recalled that nearly 200 Indian units were banned from doing business with their US counterparts after the Pokhran II nuclear tests in May 1998.

In November last year, only 51 of these Indian firms were given a reprieve but the restrictions continue on the remaining companies. The list of banned companies have been referred to as Entities List.

The forum will be registered as a non-profit society under the India Society Act and will have the ability to receive funds from public and private sources to carry out its activities. A governing body comprising seven members from the US and seven from India, will be established to provide guidance and leadership to the forum.

In effect, the forum achieves little except limited interaction in the academic field. Despite the ambitious nature of the agreement, ministerial sources in the Indian government did not see much hope of transfer of technology in crucial sectors at low cost.

The forum, according to them, is hardly expected to acquire a “high-profile character” and its role in Indo-US relation in the larger context can at best be “marginal”.    

Karachi, March 21 
Pakistan’s foreign minister Abdul Sattar today hoped that President Bill Clinton’s parleys in Delhi and Islamabad may open a new door to a peaceful settlement of the long-standing Kashmir dispute.

He was speaking on peace and security in South Asia at the, “National Electronic Forum,” jointly organised by Radio and PTV in Islamabad.

“We hope that the US will take up the role for the settlement of the issue. We have no specific formula. We have not heard of any specific formula,” he said, while recapitulating the history of strained relations between India and Pakistan.

Sattar said: “Clinton’s talks with the Indian and Pakistani leadership may open a new door to the peaceful settlement of the dispute which will get both the countries out of a time warp, in which they have been trapped for over 52 years.”

Clinton has demonstrated the, “unique qualities of persuasion,” and had brought people together, Sattar said, while referring to Clinton’s role in brokering peace between Palestinians and Israel and Syria and Israel.

Clinton had also been successful in Bosnia and Kosovo by “displaying a healing touch and capability,” he added.

Clinton “may find some way”, to settle the Kashmir issue, Sattar said.

On Clinton’s upcoming visit to Pakistan, he said: “I have indicated the areas of cooperation, which, we hope, will be explored in the talks between Clinton and Pervez Musharraf.”

Sattar listed peace and security in the region, Pak-US relations, nuclear proliferation and terrorism as issues which would be discussed during the talks.

There will be “a short exchange of views” between President Muhammad Rafiq Tarar and Clinton, he added.

Clinton, he said, has not only evinced deep understanding of the Kashmir dispute but has described it as the most dangerous flash point in the world.

The United Nations members are under obligation under its charter which calls for the promotion of peaceful settlement of disputes. The charter envisages arbitration, mediation and adjudication for the purpose, he added.

Sattar ruled out any possibility of compromise on Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir. He said the issue should be resolved in accordance with the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Both India and Pakistan had made a commitment to them under the UN Security Council’s resolutions stipulating that Kashmir’s future will be decided by its people. But India reneged on its pledge, he added.    

The following is the text of the “vision” statement signed by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

At the dawn of a new century, President Clinton and Prime Minister Vajpayee resolve to create a closer and qualitatively new relationship between the United States and India.

We are two of the world’s largest democracies. We are nations forged from many traditions and faiths, proving year after year that diversity is our strength. From vastly different origins and experiences, we have come to the same conclusions: that freedom and democracy are the strongest bases for both peace and prosperity, and that they are universal aspirations, constrained neither by culture nor levels of economic development.

There have been times in the past when our relationship drifted without a steady course. As we now look towards the future, we are convinced that it is time to chart a new and purposeful direction in our relationship.

Globalisation is erasing boundaries and building networks between nations and peoples, economies and cultures. The world is increasingly coming together around the democratic ideals India and the US have long championed and lived by.

Together, we represent a fifth of the world’s people, more than a quarter of the world’s economy. We have built creative, entrepreneurial societies. We are leaders in the information age. The currents of commerce and culture that link our societies run strong and deep. In many ways, the character of the 21st Century world will depend on the success of our cooperation for peace, prosperity, democracy and freedom.

That presents us with an opportunity, but also a profound responsibility to work together. Our partnership of shared ideals leads us to seek a natural partnership of shared endeavours.

In the new century, India and the US will be partners in peace, with a common interest in, and complementary responsibility for, ensuring regional and international security. We will engage in regular consultations on, and work together for, strategic stability in Asia and beyond. We will bolster joint efforts to counter terrorism and meet other challenges to regional peace. We will strengthen the international security system, including in the UN, and support the UN in its peacekeeping efforts. We acknowledge that tensions in South Asia can only be resolved by the nations of South Asia. India is committed to enhancing cooperation, peace and stability in the region.

India and the US share a commitment to reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, but we have not always agreed on how to reach this common goal. The US believes India should forgo nuclear weapons.

India believes that it needs to maintain a credible minimum nuclear deterrent in keeping with its own assessment of its security needs. Nonetheless, India and the US are prepared to work together to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery. To this end, we will persist with and build upon the productive bilateral dialogue already underway.

We reaffirm our respective voluntary commitments to forgo further nuclear explosive tests. We will work together and with others for an early commencement of negotiations on a treaty to end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. We have both shown strong commitments to export controls, and will continue to strengthen them. We will work together to prevent the spread of dangerous technologies. We are committed to build confidence and reduce the chances of miscalculation. We will pursue our security needs in a restrained and responsible manner, and will not engage in nuclear and missile arms races. We will seek to narrow our differences and increase mutual understanding on non-proliferation and security issues. This will help us to realise the full potential of Indo-US relations and contribute significantly to regional and global security.

The true measure of our strength lies in the ability of our people to shape their destiny and to realise their aspirations for a better life. That is why the US and India are and will be allies in the cause of democracy. We will share our experience in nurturing and strengthening democratic institutions the world over and fighting the challenge to democratic order from forces such as terrorism.

We will cooperate with others to launch an international community of democracies this year.

The US applauds India’s success in opening its economy, its achievements in science and technology, its commitment to a new wave of economic expansion and reform, and its determination to bring the benefits of economic growth to all its people. Our nations pledge to reduce impediments to bilateral trade and investment and to expand commerce between us, specially in the emerging knowledge-based industries and high-technology areas.

We will work together to preserve stability and growth in the global economy as well. And we will join in an unrelenting battle against poverty in the world. So that the promise of a new economy is felt everywhere and no nation is left behind.

That is among the fundamental challenges of our time. Opening trade and resisting protectionism are the best means for meeting it. We support an open, equitable and transparent rule-based multilateral trading system, and we will work together to strengthen it. We agree that developed countries should embrace policies that offer developing countries the opportunity to grow, because growth is the key to rising incomes and rising standards. At the same time, we share the conviction that human development also requires empowerment of people and availability of basic freedoms.

As leaders in the forefront of the new high-technology economy, we recognise that countries can achieve robust economic growth while protecting the environment and taking action to combat climate change. We will do our part to meet the global environmental challenges, including climate change and the impacts of air and water pollution on human health.

We also pledge a common effort to battle the infectious diseases that kill people and retard progress in many countries. India is at the forefront of the global effort that has brought us to the threshold of the eradication of polio.

With leadership, joint research, and application of modern science, we can and will do the same for the leading killers of our time, including AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

We are proud of the cooperation between Indians and Americans in advancing frontiers of knowledge. But even as we unravel the mysteries of time and space, we must continue to apply our knowledge to older challenges: eradicating human suffering, disease and poverty. In the past, our cooperation helped ease mass hunger in the world. In the future, it will focus as well on the development of clean energy, health, and education.

Our partnership is not an end in itself, but a means to all these ends. And it is reinforced by the ties of scholarship, commerce, and increasingly, of kinship among our people. The industry, enterprise and cultural contributions of Americans of Indian heritage have enriched and enlivened both our societies.

Today, we pledge to deepen the Indian-American partnership in tangible ways, always seeking to reconcile our differences through dialogue and engagement, always seizing opportunity to advance the countless interests we have in common. As a first step, President Clinton has invited Prime Minister Vajpayee to visit Washington at a mutually convenient opportunity, and the Prime Minster has accepted that invitation. Henceforth, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of India should meet regularly to institutionalise our dialogue. We have also agreed on, and separately outlined an architecture of, additional high-level consultations, and of joint working groups, across the broad spectrum of areas in which we are determined to institutionalise our enhanced cooperation. And we will encourage even stronger people-to-people ties.

For India and the US, this is a day of new beginnings. We have before us for the first time in 50 years the possibility to realise the full potential of our relationship. We will work to seize that chance, for our benefit and all those with whom we share this increasingly interdependent world.    


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