With the India-US civil nuclear deal still awaiting legislative approval, a leading US daily has regretted that a "major diplomatic initiative" that opened the door for improved ties has not been implemented by Congress.
"Increasing instability in Pakistan, the temptation of Iranian oil and gas to an energy-hungry India, and the rising ambitions of China, all argue strongly for America being able to present itself as a reliable security and economic partner to India. Congressional foot-dragging undermines US credibility," the Washington Times said.
"The creation of an arc of security along the Pacific Rim, anchored by India and Japan, deserves broad bi-partisan support," the paper said in a commentary Thursday by William Hawkins, senior fellow for National Security Studies at the US Business and Industry Council.
Noting that outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had made final passage of the conference report a top priority of the lame-duck session, he said, "Having to start the legislative process over again next year would be a setback for this vital diplomatic initiative."
Last week, Hawkins noted that the Bush administration sent the largest trade mission in US history to India, with 186 participating companies with medical, IT, energy, and telecommunications companies heavily represented, the Times noted.
Earlier in the month, American officials pitched a major sale of fighter aircraft to New Delhi.
"Unfortunately, the major diplomatic initiative that opened the door for improved relations has not been implemented by Congress," Hawkins said.
The incoming Democrat chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph Biden, he noted, was against assisting "India's nuclear weapons programme... We must not undermine world support for the nuclear non-proliferation regime by saying that nuclear weapons are fine for our friends.
"Yet this is exactly what the US has done for the past 60 years, and must continue to do in the real world of global power politics," Hawkins said.
Noting that India sits between radical Islamic states to the west (Pakistan and Iran) and a rising China to the east, all of which have or are developing nuclear weapons, he said, "What the US cannot afford to do is to treat India as a nation inferior in standing to China.
"Wisdom is the ability to judge how things differ on their merits. On that basis, India is clearly not Iran or North Korea. India already has a fledgling nuclear arsenal and an expanding atomic energy programme. India first conducted an underground nuclear test in 1974," Hawkins said.
It was prompted to pursue such a programme by China's entry into the nuclear club 10 years earlier. India then renounced development of weapons and as late as 1988 was still calling for UN talks to eliminate all nuclear arms. But the military build-ups of China and its ally Pakistan heightened regional tensions.
India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, bringing new US sanctions against both countries, though the Clinton administration considered Pakistan, with its support for Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Kashmir, more dangerous. The sanctions on New Delhi were lifted in 2001 as (President George W Bush wisely made improving US-India relations a top priority, Hawkins said.