I was in Singapore for the IISS Shangri La Asian security dialogue last week. More than the plenaries, the closed-door breakout sessions and other occasions for informal interaction proved to be really valuable, especially the small cocktail party hosted by President S.R. Nathan, where one got to chat with sundry "VVIPs" from the Asia-Pacific region in a fairly intimate setting...
3 June 2009
U.S.-India ties a three-stage rocket, says Obama official
Singapore: In an informal interaction with The Hindu on the sidelines of the Shangri La Asian Security Dialogue, a senior official in the Obama administration said the strategic partnership with India continued to remain a priority for Washington and fears in New Delhi to the contrary were groundless.
The official strongly refuted the views of a former American ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, who told an audience in New Delhi last month that the bilateral relationship was likely to stagnate or even deteriorate unless both sides actively worked to counter this. I don’t think Mr. Blackwill speaks for even the Republican party, the official said, adding that U.S.-India relations were like a three-stage rocket where the first stage was launched by President Bill Clinton, the second by George W. Bush and the third by Barack Obama.
The official denied the Obama administration was cold towards the nuclear agreement, citing the speech made by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg at the Brookings Institution in March which spoke of the U.S. looking forward to working with India to fulfil the promise of civil nuclear energy cooperation.
Asked about the prospects of India and the U.S. speedily concluding an agreement on reprocessing arrangements and procedures essential if there was to be any prospect of American nuclear reactor sales to India, the official said it was too early to say how the discussions would shape up. Would Indo-U.S. bilateral relations survive the bypassing of American nuclear vendors altogether in the event that the final terms on offer to India were less attractive than what French and Russian suppliers gave? Absolutely. There is a lot more to the relationship than just nuclear, was the reply.
The official was less categorical when asked about the prospects for an upswing in ties in the event that the contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft went to a non-American company.
Humourous postcript: A former U.S. secretary of defense who was listening keenly to this entire conversation -- indeed it was he who led me to said senior official to allay the apprehensions prevalent in India of Obama being aloof -- interjected at the very end when I asked if the U.S. would be ok if the fighter aircraft deal went elsewhere. "Wait a minute", he said. "We lobbied really hard in Congress for the India nuclear deal. It's one thing if reactors don't get sold. But if now you are saying no fighter jets either, then what's left for us?"