The US secretary of state laid out an agenda of global problems for New Delhi and Washington to explore. That was President Barack Obama’s priority. But she also met a wide swathe of Indian civil society, from the captains of industry to women activists, in an echo of her husband’s historic visit.
New Delhi gave a guarded welcome to working with Washington, with Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna saying the two countries were “partners” prepared to work on “global issues together.”
But the joint statement did not go beyond generalities as the two countries continue to have major differences on issues like global warming and nonproliferation. Krishna noted the two considered each other “world powers”. This was more than elf-promotion. Clinton came to India with an administration mandate: encourage India to think like a world player. “I consider India a not just regional but global power,” she repeatedly said.
This worked on two levels. The forward-looking part was to announce strategic dialogues between the world’s two largest democracies on climate change and nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.
The other was to reassure New Delhi that a Democratic administration would pursue the unfinished business of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Bilateral negotiations on sensitive reprocessing technology are to commence on Tuesday in Vienna.
Indian and US officials say the strategic dialogues were at the heart of getting the two countries into, what Clinton had termed, “the solutions business”. The US hopes these will bear fruit over the next several months and be ready for plucking when Obama comes to India – possibly in the first half of 2010.
Neither side was fazed by public differences on climate change. The real game was the future. “Her goal was to start a serious discussion on global issues,” says Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
After recent Group of Eight recommendations against the spread of such nuclear technologies, New Delhi had been wary that the Democrats would try to wriggle out of the Bush administration’s commitments. Clinton proved the fears groundless. “We will not block the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology to India, which is part of the Indo-US nuclear deal,” she assured.
India, however, failed to announce the two sites for US-supplied reactors because of legal concerns. This was supposed to have reassured US business interests that their support for the nuclear deal was not in vain. “The US side pressed for an announcement,” said a Washington lobbyist, “to create a sense there is progress, that this initiative is a real, practical thing.”
However, the conclusion of an end-use-monitoring agreement is a major breakthrough as this opens the door for Indian purchases of high-technology weapons systems from the US. While this is lucrative for the US, Indian officials also believe these systems – including reconnaissance and sensor equipment -- are necessary for “hardening” India’s perimeter against terrorist attacks.
By her visits to farming centres, talks to students and meetings with women activists – including individuals who had marked her earlier visits to India – Clinton also sought to recreate the atmospherics of Bill Clinton’s 2000 presidential visit.
Officials cite a number of reasons why this was important to the secretary of state. First, as a close aides said earlier, Clinton believes the turnaround in Indo-US relations was an initiative of herself and her husband and does not want it to be credited to George W. Bush.
Second, a diplomat noted, Obama’s appointees had already cornered a lot of the high-profile foreign policy issues like Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan. “She wants to make her mark with India.”
Finally, as she noted in her first India policy speech in June, people-to-people contacts between India and the US are driving the relationship. Clinton feels she has to keep civil society in the loop, said an Indian official.
But the real desire of the Obama administration is to make India think big picture. Clinton is only the second secretary of state to not visit Pakistan while touring India. “It has to be deliberate,” says Schaffer. Washington insiders say people like Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke pushed for an Islamabad stopover, but Clinton quashed the move. “There is a conscious desire to avoid rehyphenation,” said the lobbyist. This didn’t stop much of her interactions in India being about terrorism and Pakistan, note officials, but this was largely at the insistence of her Indian interlocutors.