India is in a frantic search to flesh out the agenda of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coming meeting with Barack Obama on September 27th in Washington. National Security Advisor is in the US to work out what diplomats call “deliverables” in the run up to the summit. The subtext: a hope this will inject life into the flagging Indo-US relationship.
The Indian team has taken a number of economic proposals, including proposals to push forward the stalled purchase of Westinghouse nuclear reactors. The idea would be to come up with an actual contract.
New Delhi has already deep-sixed preferential market access issues that had angered large US investors like IBM. Other contentious issues like transfer taxes and drug patents are probably beyond an early resolution.
India will also offer to fast track US arms purchases, notably the Javelin anti-tank missiles, M777 155mm howitzers and M109 self-propelled guns. The Javelin, say US defence sources, has been hanging fire for so long that the original price has almost become unviable. New Delhi may to offer to buy them through the fixed-price foreign military sales route – this is seen as a corruption-free, no middle man way to buy weapons but would mean no offsets for Indian industry.
India has realised a “transactional” Obama administration has wearied of New Delhi’s signing of endless MoUs, holding dozens of bilateral dialogues, but coming up with nothing tangible.
Menon, who is being accompanied by Javed Ashraf of the Prime Minister’s Office, will be in Washington for a week, returning the 22nd.
The Indo-US relationship, once seen as Singh’s greatest foreign policy accomplishment, has gone off the rails since the passage of the civil nuclear liability bill – seen by Washington as a sign New Delhi was not coming through on its side of the Indo-US nuclear deal. “No one in the White House is in charge of the India file,” says a US lobbyist who handles South Asia for his firm.
Striking evidence of how low the relationship has fallen was a letter signed by 170 US congressmen denouncing India for unfair economic policies just before US Vice-President Joe Biden’s recent stopover. This is the first time such a letter has targeted India. Many of these congressmen had been enthusiastic backers of the nuclear deal. “The letter is a sign corporate America has turned its back on India,” said a senior Indian diplomat.
Singh has been asserting personal control of the US policy in the past few months as differences on economics, defence and geopolitics have come to dominate bilateral ties. New Delhi’s recent attempts to distance itself from the US by turning down naval exercises off US waters and putting up shrill opposition to the US in climate change for a and at the World Trade Organisation are seen as increasingly short-sighted as India’s security environment vis a vis Pakistan and China deteriorates. “As far as Obama is concerned,” says the US lobbyist, “India is just a subset of the AfPak file.”