India a global leader and natural partner: Bush

US Prez 'would continue to encourage' India to separate its civilian and military N-programmes, writes S Rajagopalan.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2006 11:23 IST

Terming India a "global leader", a "natural partner" and a "good friend", President George W Bush declared on Wednesday that he will use his upcoming visit to advance theUS’s strategic partnership with India.

In an address to the Asia Society here, setting the stage for his visit to India and Pakistannext week, Bush renewed his commitment to help bring India’s civilian nuclear programme into international mainstream. At the same time, he stressed that both countries will have to follow through on their commitments.

In an implicit reference to the problems currently confrontingthe nuke deal, Bush said the civil nuclear initiative wasnot an easy decision either for India or for theUS.

"And implementing this agreement will take time and will take patience for both countries,” he said, adding: "I will continue to encourageIndia to produce a credible, transparent and defensible plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes".

Indiaa natural ally in war on terror

Bush painted a broad canvas on the transformed Indo-US relations, highlighting cooperation in five broad areas -- the war against global terrorism, promotion of democracy across the world, free and fair trade, human health and environment, and energy security.

"We have an ambitious agenda with India. Our agenda is also practical. It builds on a relationship that has never been better. India is a global leader and a good friend,” Bush said, adding he looked forward to working with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Bush, who was received by the society’s Indian American president Vishakha Desai, began by saying that both India and Pakistan are undergoing great changes that were being felt all across the world. Both countries are important for the US’s national security and economic security, he commented.

Economic ties looking up

Hailing India’s religious and ethnic diversity, Bush said: "India's government reflects its diversity. India has a Muslim president and a Sikh prime minister. I look forward to meeting with both of them.”

India’s commitment to secular government and religious pluralism makes India "a natural partner" for the US, he added.

Bush dwelt at length on the theme of free and fair trade. America’s economic relationship with India is strong and it’s getting better, he said and referred to the 30 per cent growth in US exports to India last year.

"India is now one of the fastest-growing markets for American exports, and the growing economic ties between our two nations are making American companies more competitive in the global marketplace,” he said.

Protectionism won't do

Significantly, Bush sought to drive home the message that the answer to the issue of outsourcing of jobs was not protectionism. “It’s true that a number of Americans have lost jobs because companies have shifted operations to India...But rather than respond with protectionist policies, I believe it makes sense to respond with educational policies to make sure that our workers are skilled for the jobs of the 21st century,“ he said.

He reminded fellow Americans that India’s growing affluence that has created a 300-million strong middle class represented opportunities for US businesses, farmers and workers. "Think about that. That’s greater than the entire population of the United States," he remarked.

Bush also made the case for India further opening its markets to foreign trade and investment. "India needs to continue to lift its caps on foreign investment, to make its rules and regulations more transparent, and continue to lower its tariffs and open its markets to American agricultural products, industrial goods and services,” he said.

Historic opportunity

Turning to the Indo-Pak peace process, Bush expressed satisfaction at the turnaround in relations between the two countries. "We’re pleased that India and Pakistan are beginning to work together to resolve their differences directly,” he said and referred to the series of confidence building measures.

On Kashmir, Bush commented that the US supports a resolution that is acceptable to both sides. India and Pakistan now have "an historic opportunity to work toward lasting peace", he said adding that he will encourage Prime Minister Singh and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf -- "leaders of courage and vision" -- to address the issue.

First Published: Feb 22, 2006 22:08 IST