Kerry to focus on India-US ties in his speech today

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jul 28, 2014 23:38 IST

US secretary of state John Kerry is expected to set relations with India in a new perspective, perhaps even try to reinvigorate it, in a speech Monday, ahead of his coming visit.

Kerry will likely address a common criticism that this administration had not paid the relationship enough attention, not after President Barack Obama's visit in 2010.

It's been downhill since, critics have argued.

The arrival of a new government in Delhi affords both sides an opportunity to fix whatever was wrong, experts have said. Kerry's speech, and the visit, will be a good start.

"The Secretary will underscore the shared prosperity, democratic values, and security that a strong US-India partnership brings to Asia and to the global order," said a state department announcement about the upcoming speech.

"He will also emphasize how the United States and India can work in close partnership to improve growth, investment, and opportunity across the Indo-Pacific region by spearheading regional economic connectivity."

Kerry reaches New Delhi on Tuesday for the next round of the annual strategic dialogue that two countries his alternately - it was Washington DC's turn this year.

But India agreed to host it for the second year running at the US request so Kerry could meet the new Indian leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India's main concerns remain US drawdown in Afghanistan - New Delhi wants to see there a residual force, and immigration reforms that disadvantage Indian tech firms.

From US perspective, India has not yet delivered on the nuclear deal, moved too slowly on economic reforms and supports a patent regime that doesn't suit some western firms.

"Both sides have, in the last few years, often lost the plot, focusing instead on irritants which could derail the relationship," said Milan Vaishnav, an India expert at Carnegie.

The arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, is an instance.

Influential Republican senator John McCain, who met Prime Minister Modi in India recently, has said the relationship has been dogged by transaction considerations lately.

At a congressional hearing earlier this month, he asked the administration's senior-most official for India, Nisha Biswal, if the United States had a "strategic agenda" for India.

At the end of the exchange, the senator indicated he was clearly not satisfied by Biswal's answers, which, experts said, was not the result of her inability to express herself.
"This administration has no agenda which she could communicate," said a former US ambassador to India, asking not to be identified so he could speak freely.

Kerry's speech may plug that hole, but will it be enough?

"One speech alone is insufficient," said Vaishnav. "The Administration will have to dedicate senior-level firepower on a sustained basis to keep the pressure on the bureaucracy."

And what about the summit? Anish Goel, a former White House official dealing with India, said, "I am optimistic about the coming summit, but don't expect a major breakthrough."

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