27 June 2009

NSA to NSA: India is more than AfPak

American NSA James Jones in Delhi for consultations... U.S. President Barack Obama invites Manmohan Singh to visit in fall...

27 June 2009
The Hindu

NSA to NSA: India is more than AfPak

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: Against the backdrop of declining Indian expectations about the future of the bilateral relationship with the United States in the post-George W. Bush era, the seniormost Obama official to visit here to date delivered a big message tailored to make his hosts happy: “We intend to continue where the previous administration left off.”

In his first visit to India, U.S. National Security Adviser General James L. Jones (retd.) held extensive discussions on Friday with M. K. Narayanan, National Security Adviser, besides meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister A.K. Antony. He also formally conveyed President Barack Obama’s invitation to Dr. Singh to visit the White House this fall.

In his meetings, Indian officials told The Hindu, Gen. Jones’s focus was on the big picture. “The broad message General Jones brought with him was that they want to continue what was done earlier and build up the relationship,” an official said. Topics covered included the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan and terrorism. A U.S. embassy release noted that the two sides also talked about the post-election situation in Iran, energy and developing closer economic and trade links as well as defence ties between India and the U.S.

Asked whether the U.S. side had also sought to push India towards a dialogue on Kashmir with Pakistan —something the Pakistani Prime Minister’s office had advertised General Jones’s mission to include — the officials said this was not the case. “I think the American effort, in fact, was to bracket us with the larger set of global issues and see what we can do together, rather that to narrow the bracket to the region,” said an official. “Afghanistan and Pakistan also came up, but mainly because of our security concerns.”

Expanding bilateral ties

The official press release issued after the visit said General Jones had conveyed President Obama’s commitment to “expanding bilateral relations in all areas, and the importance attached by the U.S. Administration in working with India in shaping events in the twenty first century at the regional and global level.”

Speaking to The Hindu, Mike Hammer, spokesman of the U.S. National Security Council — the White House inter-agency coordination body and ‘think tank’ which General Jones heads — said the NSC had recently been restructured to enable a more focused approach to India.

The region of South Asia had been split with a separate director now responsible for Afghanistan and Pakistan and another, Donald Camp, looking after India.

Apart from India, Russia is the only other country to be subject to such specific focus, with most NSC directors responsible for broad regions, the U.S. officials said.

During the Bush years, the NSC was the hothouse from which many of the ‘big ideas’ for strategic cooperation with India emerged. And it was Stephen J. Hadley, who was NSA at the time, who helped pilot the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement through the thicket of inter-agency obstacles, especially in the final stages.

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