Washington, Jan. 28: In an effort to defuse a diplomatic storm caused by American ambassador David Mulford’s comments, the state department’s third ranking official yesterday unveiled a sweeping vista of cooperation between New Delhi and Washington.
Mulford had warned that an Indian vote in favour of Iran would be disastrous for the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Nicholas Burns, the under-secretary of state for political affairs, revealed hitherto unannounced details of strategic cooperation between India and the US in South Asia to make the point that the growing relations could not be hostage to a single issue: the vote on Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on February 2.
“We now have very close cooperation between India and the US on Sri Lanka trying to stem the violence there,” Burns said, dispelling the impression that New Delhi was following a hands-off policy on the island’s ethnic strife.
“On Bangladesh, (we are) trying to give advice to the government to stem the Islamic extremism,” Burns revealed. “We are trying to work together on Nepal to give good advice to the king, to allow political democracy. This is fundamentally a different type of cooperation. It extends to Iran.”
For those in India who favour closer Indo-US ties, the statement by Burns will be a source of encouragement. But for the Left parties, which are already uncomfortable about expanding relations with Washington, there may be further reason for disquiet.
Burns took the unusual step yesterday of speaking about Indo-US relations at a Republic Day reception for Washington’s diplomatic corps and prominent Americans, hosted by Indian ambassador Ronen Sen.
Later, he answered questions from Indian correspondents.
Burns described the envoy in New Delhi as “an outstanding American ambassador”, but for Mulford, it was cold comfort after the state department snubbed him three days ago and described the controversial parts of his interview to PTI as his personal views.
Washington’s diplomatic community is unanimous that ambassadors don’t express personal views and that by disowning Mulford’s comments, the state department had severely rebuked him in public.
Burns compared the “renaissance” in Indo-US relations to the growth in America’s links with China after its late leader, Deng Xiaoping, chose the path of reform.
Speaking about the vote at the IAEA, Burns said: “It (India) is obviously going to act in its own national interests. It will make decisions... based on its national interests and I think we all have to respect that and we do respect that.”