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US remembers Vajpayee as ‘early’ believer in closer ties

“Standing before the United States Congress in 2000, he famously characterized US-India ties as a ‘natural partnership of shared endeavors’,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

world Updated: Aug 17, 2018 09:47 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Atal Bihari Vajpayee dies,Atal Bihari Vajpayee dead,Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Schoolgirls hold candles and photographs of India's former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to pay him homage during a prayer ceremony inside a school in Chennai.(REUTERS)

The United States on Thursday joined the world in paying tributes to late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, saying he was among those who “recognized early that India and the US could develop a partnership” for the benefit of the region and the world.

“Standing before the United States Congress in 2000, he famously characterized US-India ties as a ‘natural partnership of shared endeavors’,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“He recognized early on that the United States and India, based on their shared democratic values, could develop a partnership that would contribute to the economic prosperity and security of the region and the world. Today, our two countries and our bilateral relationship continue to benefit from Prime Minister Vajpayee’s vision, which helped promote expanded cooperation.

“The American people and I stand with the people of India as we mourn Prime Minister Vajpayee’s passing. Today, we hold the people of India in our thoughts and prayers,” Pompeo said.

Vajpayee’s visit to the US in September 2000 was a landmark one in many ways.

Together with President Bill Clinton’s visit to India earlier that year in March, it ended the chill that had set in after Vajpayee’s decision to conduct nuclear tests two years earlier in 1998, which had angered the US and other western powers and had resulted in sanctions that are still unravelling.

The final restoration of ties and India’s ultimate goal of being recognized a nuclear power was still few years away, but the seeds of if were sown during that visit. George W Bush, then Texas governor who was running for the White House as a Republican candidate, had sought a meeting with Vajpayee — the only one from among the hundreds of world leaders in town then for the UN general assembly, Indian officials had then stressed.

India and the United States would go on to sign a landmark civil nuclear deal in 2008 under the watch of a different Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, in an initiative that President Bush had pushed relentlessly, according to several former US officials.

That deal has since become a yardstick to measure warmth levels of succeeding administrations.

In another far-reaching impact of that 2000 visit, Prime Minister Vajpayee had described India and the United States as “natural allies” in a speech at a New York think-tank. That phrase would resonate for years in policy circles and go on to define Indo-US relationship.

Barack Obama, the then Democratic Party candidate for the White House, used a variation of it during the campaign saying in an interview to India Abroad, a news publication dedicated to community news, “The world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy are natural partners”.

After being elected, however, he went right back to the phrase coined by Vajpayee in 2000. “The US and India are natural allies not just on counter-terrorism issues but on a whole host of issues,” Obama said after a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009. He went on to launch another phrase that would come to be used widely for describing the India-US relationship during his tenure — “the defining partnership of the 21st century”.

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 09:23 IST