Welcome to India, Mr. President

A very interesting viewpoint in the Asian Wall Street Journal yesterday.

Welcome to India, Mr. President

By T.P. SREENIVASANAsian Wall Street Journal March 1, 2006

Dear Mr. President,

One capital in the world where you are sure to be welcomed with garlands is New Delhi. Your predecessors, former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were extremely well-received here, even though they never offered nearly as much promise for India-U.S. relations. Our parliamentarians jostled each other to shake hands with Mr. Clinton, even after he chastised us for our nuclear tests on the floor of our own Parliament in 2000.

As a democracy that has survived unscathed for nearly 60 years, we have a romantic ideal of the American Democratic Party. But we also know that it is the Republican presidents who have discovered our potential and acted accordingly. Since former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower gave us the Atoms for Peace initiative, where a number of Indian scientists were invited to the U.S. for training in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the only U.S. president who has recognized our crying need for nuclear energy and shown readiness to end our nuclear isolation is you, George W. Bush.

Our strenuous efforts, for nearly 50 years, to secure nuclear technology without signing the nonproliferation treaty bore fruit on July 18, 2005, when you agreed with our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that India should have the same rights and obligations as other nuclear-weapon states, such as the United States. By that single gesture, you earned a permanent place in our hearts. When we were told that you would deliver on those promises during your visit this week, our excitement reached a crescendo.

Now, it looks as if when you arrive in India today, you will come empty-handed. The high priests of nonproliferation in your country perceived a grave danger in providing uranium fuel to our starving nuclear-power stations. After the July agreement was signed, your State Department shifted the goalposts to address those concerns, by asking New Delhi to submit a plan for separation of civilian and military facilities to be approved by the U.S. No other nuclear-weapon state has such an obligation. The subsequent inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency of Indian civilian facilities are sought by the State Department to be perpetual. In other words, the balance of rights and obligations of the July 2005 agreement has fallen victim to past prejudices. U.S. lawmakers

have not shown any signs of a change of heart.

A change of heart is slow in coming in India as well. Many here, including scientists, believe that your motivation is to drag India into the nonproliferation tent and to stop the development of a uranium alternative for fuelling our power plants. They see a conspiracy behind the U.S. offer to break the nuclear impasse. They would rather keep reinventing the wheel in splendid isolation rather than accept the challenges of international cooperation. Sixty years of suspicion can not be wiped out in a day.

The success of your visit to India is not contingent upon the implementation of a nuclear deal. More important is a demonstration of a new mindset in both Washington and New Delhi. If the United States is committed to the emergence of India as a great power, there is no better way to show it than by supporting New Delhi’s aspiration for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. No one expects an immediate consensus on an expansion of the Security Council, but an indication of U.S. support is long overdue. Equally important is the need to rectify the anachronism of India’s absence from Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

The way forward is to pursue the path that you and our prime minister embarked upon in July of last year. Any attempt to modify it is dangerous. Both sides must realize that cooperation is possible even after years of estrangement, and that it will benefit both sides.

No other visit by a head of state to India has generated as much interest and controversy as your own. You will see the vibrancy of our democracy and the enormity of our challenges. You will also witness a universal regard for America’s accomplishments. Welcome to India.

Mr. Sreenivasan served as deputy Indian ambassador in Washington from 1997 to 2000.

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