New York, Sept. 15: In a breakthrough on the vexing question of the sale of high-tech American items to India, the Bush administration has decided to send Kenneth I. Juster, US under-secretary of commerce in charge of export administration, to New Delhi in November for talks on the issue.
A roadmap for translating into action President George W. Bush’s political willingness to open up unprecedented cooperation with India on civilian nuclear energy, space, and high-tech goods was tentatively worked out at a one-and-a-half-hour lunch meeting between national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and his US counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, immediately after Bush met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee here on Thursday.
It has also been decided to create a joint Indo-US forum to discuss all the problems restricting the sale of high-tech US products to India.
According to Mishra, a sustained dialogue with the US at various levels was necessary to put into bureaucratic action the political decision by Bush and Vajpayee at their meeting to open up hitherto handicapped areas in Indo-US relations.
India, which is anxious to get high-tech American goods, civilian nuclear technology and inputs for space research, had earlier sent some proposals to Washington on how to overcome impediments in securing such cooperation. Juster is expected to bring the Bush administration’s response to those proposals when he visits New Delhi.
Sale of high-tech goods, many of which have dual civilian and military use, is an extremely sensitive subject in the US. There is a web of legislation restricting the export of such goods.
Nuclear and space cooperation is even more sensitive in Washington, especially when it comes countries like India which have refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
India has been at the receiving end of US restrictions even before the 1998 nuclear tests, indeed, ever since the first nuclear test 18 years ago.
India needs US nuclear technology especially in the power sector where the progress of thermal or hydel power capacity expansion has been unsatisfactory even after the electricity sector was thrown open to foreign investment.
India also needs US assistance for its space programme, especially as it embarks on ambitious plans to put a man on the moon.
According to sources privy to the talks between Bush and Vajpayee, the President surprised the Indian delegation by the disarming candour with which he offered to move ahead with New Delhi in areas that have been considered by successive US administrations to be out of bounds for Indo-US relations.
Bush visibly improved the mood of the Indian delegation by opening the meeting with condolences on the terrorist murder of Jammu and Kashmir’s junior minister Mushtaq Ahmed Lone just before the talks.
He then told Vajpayee: “You, Mr Prime Minister, and I will lay the foundations for long-term relations between our two countries.”
Unlike at their first meeting in November last year, when Bush was under considerably greater tension and pressure so soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks, he was in his Texan, back-slapping, cheerful mood when he met the Prime Minister.
He was solicitous about Vajpayee’s health. On a few occasions, Bush called the Prime Minister “Sir”. As is his wont at meetings where he is comfortable, Bush did most of the talking.
The upshot of their 35-minute talk was that no one in New Delhi could repeat recent complaints that progress in Indo-US relations was gradually becoming hostage to Indo-Pakistan tensions.
Even on areas where the two leaders disagreed, such as Iraq, it was possible to express their disagreements with honesty.
Bush told Vajpayee that his strongly-worded references to Iraq at the UN General Assembly should not be construed as a declaration of war. He was merely stating the problem and how to deal with it.
Within hours of the meeting of the two leaders, soon after their national security advisers met over lunch, deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, flew down from Washington for a meeting with Mishra.
That Armitage drove from La Guardia aiport straight for meeting Mishra and flew back to Washington directly after their talks meant that the Bush administration was using the opportunity provided by the brief Indo-US summit for some brisk and straight business.
If the Mishra-Rice talks concentrated on bilateral relations, the Mishra-Armitage meeting focused on the India-Pakistan situation.
That Vajpayee has been encouraged by the results of this meeting and his own talks on Pakistan with Bush was obvious yesterday from what the Prime Minister told Congressional leaders from New York and two other neighbouring states.
If the international community is unable to stop Pakistan from abetting terrorism across the border, India will have to find its own ways to achieve this, he told legislators who are also members of the India Caucus.
Mishra told Armitage that the Prime Minister felt strongly about General Pervez Musharraf’s references to the domestic situation in India in his address to the UN General Assembly.