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Bush sends strong signal on Indo-US ties

Bush sends strong signal on Indo-US ties

Author: Chidanand Rajghatta
Publication: Times of India
Date: April 7, 2001

US President George W. Bush emphatically signalled his intent to enhance Indo-US relations by inviting External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh to the Oval Office for talks following the latter's discussions with National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.

Singh was holding talks with Rice in the White House complex at a scheduled 11 a.m. meeting when Bush dropped in on the meeting. Such a walk-in is a typical American protocol manoeuvre designed to send a positive message. But Bush surpassed the intended gesture which some of the diplomatic fraternity knew in advance by inviting Singh back to the Oval office and spending nearly half an hour with him. Bush's gesture, coming at a time when the U.S-China spat is dominating headlines here, was widely seen as signal that he intended to keep up, if not surpass, the importance the Clinton administration accorded to ties with India during its final years.

I was honoured by the Presidents gracious gesture, an evidently surprised Singh said later during a brief encounter with the media, but he did not take questions that could have elicited what they discussed.

Throughout Friday, Singh met key members of the Bush administrations foreign policy team in an effort to seek greater convergence between India and the United States on security and other matters.

Singh, who arrived here Thursday night after visiting Sweden and Denmark, had a packed day meeting the three foreign policy principals of the Bush team. He first met National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, the youngest member of the Bush foreign policy team and a relatively enthusiastic proponent of enhanced U.S-India ties.

He then met Secretary of State Colin Powell, a moderate who also favours increased cooperation with India, in the State Department building at Foggy Bottom. Singhs final call for the day will be on the hard-line Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld at Pentagon.

Officials said Singh was discussing a whole range of issues, including the Asian security situation, international and cross-border terrorism, trade and economic issues, and sanctions, while furthering the personal rapport with the new foreign policy team.

Following the luncheon meeting, Singh and Powell had a brief encounter with the media just outside the state department. Powell said they had a fine meeting and the Presidents gesture was illustrative of the importance the United States attached to its relationship with India. Singh described his meetings as very fruitful and rewarding.

Singh's 11 a.m. meeting with Rice was the focus of attention since it was held in the White House complex and sometimes the President drops by such meetings in an orchestrated protocol gesture designed to send a positive message. As it turned out, Bush did more than just drop in.

The China spat did not derail any of Singhs meetings although it continued to dominate the headlines here (Singhs visit got nary a mention). After the pow-wow with Rice, Singh and the Indian foreign policy team were hosted to a luncheon meeting by Secretary of State Colin Powell on the elegant eighth floor of the State Department, following delegation level talks between the two sides.

Singh was accompanied by Lalit Mansingh, till recently Indias Foreign Secretary and now the new Indian ambassador in Washington, and senior officials of the External Affairs Minister including the Joint Secretary (America) and Joint Secretary (Disarmament). Powell had with him, among others, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, and the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Al Eastham.

Although in the past New Delhi's attitude about sanctions has been that it is up to Washington to lift it if it wants to improve the atmosphere, this time Singh is carrying briefs from the various Indian entities under sanction, especially where it involves urgent national security concerns. One such example is the submarine rescue deal that Washington has signed with India and has since reneged because of the sanctions.

US officials, including Powell, have indicated that the sanctions will be eased in due course but it will have to wait till a full review of the whole sanctions policy. In the meantime, US officials said, the Indian wish-list could be examined on a case-by-case basis and forwarded to the President for one-time waivers.

Although sanctions are an instrument of legislative policy, lifting sanctions against India has broad support in the Congress expressed in a well-timed and carefully orchestrated letter to the President this week by 47 lawmakers and legislation in the Congress by members of the Indian-American Caucus seeking to overturn the sanctions.

But that sentiment has to be endorsed by Rumsfeld, a cold warrior whose worldview, according to some experts, has not changed much from the 1980s. Jaswant Singh, who is a former major in the Indian Army, is meeting him in his capacity as Defence Minister. The Pentagon is laying out an Armed Forces Full Honour Arrival Ceremony when he arrives there at 3 p.m.

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