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Bush campaigns for India

Ahead of his visit to India, Bush has intertwined the needs of both countries into virtually all his speeches to strengthen his case.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2006 18:47 IST

Ahead of his India visit, US President George W Bush has been building his case for energy security before the American people and has intertwined the needs of both countries into virtually all his speeches to strengthen his case.

On Wednesday, speaking at the Asia Society ahead of his trip next week, Bush not only dwelt on the multifaceted strategic relationship the two democracies were building but also hammered home the symbiotic relationship the two countries needed to develop.

America was hooked on oil, India needed oil. Prices were rising in the US partly because emerging global powers like India were driving up the demand. The US needed to look at alternative sources including nuclear technology and India was doing the same.

Bush pointed out that India was a vast market for American goods and not an outsourcing threat; India was an ally in the war on terrorism and, like America, was a victim of terrorist acts upon its soil; India was reaching out for regional stability and global environmental protection, all needed American objectives as well.

However, Stephen Cohen, the resident expert on India at the Brookings Institution, said: "What was striking was what was not mentioned."

"The Indian-American and Pakistani-American communities seemed to be missing. Nor was there any discussion or mention of India's role as a leading Asian power and that we welcomed India's growing relationship with China," Cohen said.

"If the president was smart he would take some Republicans and Democrats with him," said Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia Programme at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.

"It would be seen on the Hill as a good faith effort to get support for the president's initiative with India," he said.

But in all fairness, Bush did dwell upon India's relationship with Afghanistan as part of the Global Democracy Fund partnership the two countries launched last year at the UN. "The discussion of India was quite comprehensive," conceded Cohen.

Bush acknowledged it was an "ambitious agenda" with India and stressed it was a practical one as well. He spoke at length about the outsourcing fear-mongers and linked American corporate competitiveness to growing outsourcing to India and its benefits to American workers.

But people were waiting more for his comments on the civilian nuclear cooperation component of the pact he signed with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh July 18 last year and that will allow India access to previously prohibited nuclear technology.

He reiterated the US position that India needed to bring its civilian energy programmes under the same international safeguards that govern nuclear power programmes in other countries.

"This is not an easy decision for India nor is it an easy decision for the US and implementing this agreement will take time and it will take patience from both our countries," Bush cautioned as policymakers and India enthusiasts wait with baited breath for the possible inking of yet another landmark agreement between the two leaders when he arrives in India March 1.

"I'll continue to encourage India to produce a credible, transparent and defensible plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes," Bush said even as his pointman Under Secretary Nicholas Burns and resident expert Ashley Tellis are in India negotiating the finishing touches to the nuclear deal.

"There's a lot of hoopla in India and very little in this country," said Hathaway. He said this was not surprising egged on as it was by the civilian nuclear agreement and the controversy surrounding its details.

"While we in Washington are so inwardly focused we forget it is also very controversial in India," Hathaway noted, referring to New Delhi's reluctance to place its indigenously-built fast breeder reactors under international inspection.

In the past Hathaway has contended that Bush, if he were to vigorously pursue it, would able to get US Congress to pass the necessary legislation making India an exception to the Atomic Energy Act that prohibits sale of nuclear technology to nuclear weapons states not members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"The president would like to have a the t's crossed and the I's dotted, but I don't think he has to have that in order to have a successful visit. The White House, in fact, is trying to play down this visit because of the uncertainty over the outcome," Hathaway maintained.

"Simply put, if they get an agreement, it probably means prime minister will be able to sell it but doesn't mean the president will be able to sell it here," he cautioned.

There have been press reports about the two sides envisaging some kind of arrangement that would allow India 10 or 12 years of lead time without international inspection of its fast breeder reactor facilities. But Hathaway warned that would face tougher opposition on the Hill.

"If there was that 12 year moratorium, it would cause even more problems because here people would argue that India has not created a firewall and that the nuclear material would be used for military purposes. So it would make it harder in Congress," he argued.

And even if the president returns with a cut and dried agreement from Delhi, it will take time. "There will still be a process - it will go through several committees and I would think that Congressional approval would not be forthcoming till late spring or even summer."