Muted dialogue

India and the US did not have much to show on the table after the conclusion of the third round of their strategic dialogue in Washington.

Both external affairs minister SM Krishna and secretary of state Hillary Clinton reiterated their commitment to expanding co-operation over a wide range of areas and issues but the difference from the enthusiasm that marked the earlier rounds was quite clear. Last time president Obama had broken protocol and met Krishna as a sign of the keen US interest in the dialogue.

The reason for the low key atmosphere in the latest talks may be the preoccupation of the US leadership with the presidential elections and the political weakness of the Indian government and the deterioration of the economy in the interregnum. It will not go unnoticed that in the joint press conference after the dialogue most of the questions were addressed to Clinton on issues which had no bearing on Indo-US relations. That was another sign of the waning of American public interest in bilateral Indo-US relations.

There were some concrete steps and ideas that came up at the meeting but for which the entire exercise would have been forgettable. The agreement between US nuclear corporation Westinghouse and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India to set up power plants in Gujarat was one such. The US had been apprehensive about co-operation after the passage of India’s nuclear liability law but the agreement shows that a clear and strong stand by India is not an obstacle to co-operation.

The US strategy in Asia is undergoing a change with the approaching pullout from Afghanistan and increasing tensions with China. It is in India’s interest that New Delhi and Washington will have trilateral talks involving Kabul also. But India will have to be careful in endorsing and involving in the new security arrangements.

Being big countries with large economies, the US and India have a wide and variegated area of potential co-operation. The agreements to reduce trade barriers and increase co-operation in science and technology, agriculture and health are natural elements in a growing relationship. So are steps envisaged for greater co-operation in areas like counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering. But it still remains that beyond these areas and the expected declarations of commitment to shared values and the need for greater mutual understanding the latest dialogue did not go very far.

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