Short on substance

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the United States, while rich in style and symbolism fell short on achieving anything substantial. The atmospherics were great and the joint statement at the end of the visit reiterated the commitment of the two sides to their ‘global strategic partnership.’ Besides, India and the US have agreed to set up a bilateral Counterterrorism Co-operation Initiative that will expand collaboration on many fronts. While stopping short of naming Pakistan for its support and sanctuary to anti-India terrorism, the joint statement also expresses ‘grave concern’ over ‘terrorism and violent extremists emanating from India’s neighbourhood.’ However, the prime minister’s visit failed to achieve its main objective ie the operationalisation of the India-US civilian nuclear agreement. There has been some unease in India over the Obama administration’s commitment to implement the nuclear deal finalised by the George Bush administration. While Obama has reaffirmed commitment to the deal, it does seem that differences on the issue of reprocessing persist. Prime Minister Singh has said that the differences are ‘minor.’ Still, with an August 2010 deadline looming, the two sides cannot be complacent. They must hurry up and clinch an agreement at the earliest.

A greater congruence between India and the US on the climate change issue seems to have emerged. India has been insisting rightly on enhanced financial and technological support to developing countries to enable them to switch to green technologies. The joint statement recognises the need for such support. This is heartening. But how much support will the US extend? The proof of whether the US is willing to walk its talk will become evident in a couple of weeks at Copenhagen.
The prime minister’s visit to the US has sent out a mixed message to those looking for signs of the Obama administration’s firm commitment to close engagement with India. That Obama hosted the Indian prime minister for his administration’s first state visit is important. There is no doubt that he is excited by India and its achievements. There is an excellent personal rapport too between the US President and the Indian Prime Minister. But these alone are not enough. On key security issues, Washington wavers in extending India robust support. The visit shows that there is a favourable mood and environment in the US for a closer Delhi-Washington engagement. India must tap that supportive environment’s potential to take the ‘strategic partnership’ to a higher level.

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