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HVK Archives: In the Clinton Cabinet, India has only one friend - Bill

In the Clinton Cabinet, India has only one friend - Bill - The Indian Express

Chidanand Rajghatta ()
June 22, 1998

Title: In the Clinton Cabinet, India has only one friend - Bill
Author: Chidanand Rajghatta
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: June 22, 1998

In President Clinton's evanescent Cabinet, where changes are rung
in by the month, India has virtually no friends or supporters.
Except one.

Among the three key principals, Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright appears daggers at New Delhi; Defence Secretary William
Cohen has never warmed to South Asia; and National Security
Adviser Sandy Berger is a trade lawyer whose worldview - or lack
of it - is scoffed at by foreign policy wonks.

In the second tier, UN ambassador - turned Energy Secretary Bill
Richardson is still smarting from what he perceives as the
Bharatiya Janata Party Government's duplicity about the tests;
the new UN envoy Richard Holbrooke is known as the raging bull
who cows down everyone in sight; and Treasury Secretary Robert
Rubin is too busy with the yen, yin and yang of Japan and China
to care too much about New Delhi.

That leaves India with precisely one ally. A First Friend.
Indeed, ever since India's nuclear tests convulsed the world,
President Clinton is about the only US leader who has taken a
relatively mild, pragmatic stand about the event even to the
extent of outlining New Delhi's rationale for going nuclear and
suggesting the world ought to appreciate India's security

Of course, he has never wavered from the bottomline that New
Delhi made a terrible mistake in conducting the tests and is
plainly wrong in trying to blast its way into the nuclear club.

But more than any other administration official, it is Clinton
who has assuaged the daily scolding by the workaday mandarins
with often lavish praise of India's democratic trappings, its
economic potential, the skill of its people, and its
civilisational moorings. By one count, Clinton has made at least
six references to India's "greatness" and "potential" even while
slamming New Delhi for crossing the nuclear rubicon.

And it is only after his persistent tempering of remarks with the
soothing balm of praise that his underlings have also somewhat
softened their attitude.

Now, as the dust from the nuclear tests settles down literally
and metaphorically, it transpires that the President himself is
setting the tone to move from reproach to rapprochement.

That much is evident from the remarks National Security Adviser
Sandy Berger made to editors and reporters of the Washington Post
last Wednesday.

"Listen to the President as he talked about the tests," the Post
quoted Berger as telling its staff.

e talked about the greatness of India and potential of India
and the tremendous benefits that could come from a closer
relationship with India ... I don't want to lose sight and the
President does not want to lose sight of the opportunity after
the Cold War to develop a fitting relationship with the world's
largest democracy."

Such gradual - and still developing - change of mindset has also
been accompanied by an increasingly retrospective tone in both
the media and in policy circles as to why the US is kowtowing
China, a Communist country with a long history of proliferation,
while beating up on India, a democracy with a spotless record of

The argument was first made by New York Times columnist Abe
Rosenthal but has since gathered momentum, being expounded in the
US legislature last week by Senator Connie Mack.

More newspaper columnists and lawmakers have since picked up the
tack, including those who previously saw no merit at all in
India's argument about its security concerns.

"The United States is pummeling a friendly democratic country,
India, which is not known ever to have committed the cardinal
nuclear-club sin of helping another country enter the magic
circle. At the same time it is cultivating an ambiguously
situated, unambiguously undemocratic country, China, even
offering it privileged access to nuclear technologies barred to
the Indians. It is making this opening to a Chinese leadership
that helped Pakistan go nuclear and that at best has an improving
but still problematic attitude to non-proliferation," the
Washington Post's key editorial writer on South Asia, Stephen
Rosenfeld wrote on Friday, while arguing that India still was not
entitled to a place in the nuclear club.

Clinton's sentiment for India predates the nuclear tests. In
fact, in one interview several weeks before the tests when the,
air was thick with preparations for the President's visit to the
subcontinent, a senior administration official told this
correspondent that much of the administration's recent focus on
South Asia stemmed from the Clinton's personal directive.

Now, officials say the President is still interested in going to
South Asia despite his deep disappointment at the nuclear tests.

But there is no way he will go if the visit does not accomplish

While the President himself appears to be signalling a long-term
look at the region despite his immediate preoccupation with China
and aggravating remarks about the role Beijing can play in Indo-
Pak disputes, his senior officials are also applying the anodyne
even as they announce the sanctions.

Within the administration, the Post reported on Sunday,
realisation is growing that if relations are to be repaired,
India's positions may have to be accommodated.

"The United States has a very, very high regard for India. India
has been a friend of the US for a lot longer than other states in
the region, including very large states in the region. We want to
see India prosper and thrive and attain its aspirations for
itself in the next century," Deputy Secretary' Strobe Talbott
said on Thursday even as he detailed the sanctions.

Another unnamed senior administration official was quoted as
telling the Post, "We agree that they will be an important global
power in the 21st century. We are trying assiduously to take into
account the Indian world view."

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