| Richard Armitage talks to AB Vajpayee in New Delhi on Saturday. (Reuters)
Washington, May 10: President George W. Bush has sent a powerful message which will galvanise his entire administration, American business and even the US military into new vistas of Indo-US cooperation.
By meeting national security adviser Brajesh Mishra in the White House Oval Office for 15 to 20 minutes during his just-concluded two-day visit to Washington, Bush has communicated to doubting Thomases here that nothing will stand in the way of strong Indo-US relations: not New Delhi’s unwillingness to join the coalition against Iraq, not the American corporate community’s complaints about the pace of economic reforms in India, not even the severe pressure that India constantly puts on America’s close ally, General Pervez Musharraf.
Mishra’s meeting with the President began with the national security adviser conveying Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s greetings to Bush and renewing the invitation for a presidential visit to India.
Bush, in turn, praised Vajpayee for his initiative to resume talks with Pakistan and said his administration would do anything possible to support the move. Neither the Indians nor the Americans are willing to go into too much detail about the Oval Office dialogue citing diplomatic privilege.
But sources said it was not a monologue. Mishra is famous for his precise articulation and clarity. And as Bush told deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani last year, he admires that in his interlocutors.
But as important as the content of the talks between Mishra and Bush are the circumstances in which their meeting took place.
This has possibly been the busiest week for Bush since the war began in Iraq. On the day he met Mishra, there was a long line-up of leaders scheduled to meet the President at the White House.
Among them were the Prime Minister of Denmark, the emir of Qatar and the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, whose accession to Nato was ratified by the Senate on Thursday.
This was also the week when Bush met Singapore’s Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and signed a Free Trade Agreement with the island state. Other leaders who were in Washington this week were Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and El Salvador’s Vice-President Carlos Schmidt.
Shortly before the President met Mishra, six Indian Americans were in the White House as part of an Asian American delegation. Bush told one of them, Narayanan Keshavan, executive director of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, that “India is important for all of us”. He said of his plans to visit India that “it has to fall into place”.
What is significant about the White House meetings this week is that every foreign visitor who met Bush was an ally of the US in the war against Saddam Hussein.
Mishra was the sole exception — from a country that did not join the “coalition of the willing” on Iraq. It is a distinction which will be noted and positively reflected in the coming months in America’s dealings with India.
Bush underlined the importance his administration attached to India by insisting that he did not want to “drop in” on Mishra’s meeting with his US counterpart, Condoleezza Rice. Dropping in on such meetings is a traditional White House gesture of indicating the President’s direct interest in relations with a particular country.
But in Mishra’s case, Bush insisted that it was not to be a “drop in” but a regular meeting in the Oval Office. Mishra was escorted into the Oval Office by Rice.
The Indian official was very modest about the White House gesture. He told Indian correspondents here that “this is not about me. It shows the importance the Bush administration attaches to Indo-US relations”.
Addressing a press conference just before his departure for Paris and London, Mishra said there were absolutely no differences within the Indian leadership on the Prime Minister’s initiative on Pakistan.
He said an opportunity for better relations between the two South Asian neighbours “must not be wasted” by acting in haste. It was necessary to proceed stage by stage.
Kashmir, he pointed out, was not the only problem between New Delhi and Islamabad. There was, for instance, Siachen, Sir Creek and a host of others, which can only be tackled by a dialogue “sustained over a period”.