U.S. India building up their relationshipBy Anwar IqbalUPI South Asian Affairs Analyst
Washington, DC, Apr. 13 (UPI)
Washington, DC, Apr. 13 (UPI) -- U.S. President George W. Bush will meet Indian Minister for External Affairs Natwar Singh Thursday morning, diplomatic sources told United Press International.
The president usually does not meet foreign ministers, but the White House arranged the meeting to convey the importance Washington places on its relationship with New Delhi, the sources said.
On March 25, while announcing the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, U.S. officials also offered to help India become a major world power. The offer included U.S. weapons, space cooperation and cooperation in civil nuclear technology, as well as offering help to accelerate India's economic progress.
Singh, who arrived in Washington Tuesday, is also scheduled to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior U.S. officials before leaving for home Thursday evening.
Briefing journalists on the visit, Indian diplomats said that Singh is expected to urge the Americans to concretize their plans for a long-term engagement with India and make some forward movement toward implementing their pledge to make India a major world power.
A State Department official, when asked what weapons the United States is offering to India, said: "We are going to allow American companies to market F-16 and F-18 aircraft to India."
"The Indians have said they want 126 planes, and they're talking to the Russians and the Swedes about it. I expect that they'll talk to us, too," said the official who did not want to be identified. But he also said that it's "way too early for a deal to be discussed."
Both U.S. and Indian officials have indicated that they expect some concrete progress in Indo-U.S. cooperation in space and nuclear technologies during Singh's visit. They said that while the Americans were willing to sell military aircraft to India, New Delhi first has to decide which planes suit its needs before buying them.
They pointed out that India has traditionally purchased planes from Russian and European nations, and the American weapon system is comparatively new to them.
The Indians also see other risks in buying weapons from the United States. They fear that Russia, India's main supplier, may lift the ban on selling weapons to Pakistan if New Delhi buys weapons from Washington. Moscow has persistently said "no" to Islamabad's request for arms in the past.
Policymakers in Washington have their own concerns about India. They seem worried about India's growing relations with Iran and about its efforts to improve relations with China. A long-term deal New Delhi has signed with Tehran for gas, with the possibility of the pipeline through Pakistan, has irritated Washington.
Rice minced no words in conveying America's displeasure over the pipeline deal when she met Indian leaders in New Delhi last month. Also, wary of China's growing influence in Asia, U.S. policymakers want to see India countering Beijing's influence, not supplementing it.
On Tuesday, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao concluded a four-day official visit to India, raising hopes that growing relations between Asia's two giant neighbors can bring about a major strategic change in the region. Both countries have rapidly growing economies, and during Wen's visit both Indian and Chinese leaders expressed the hope to improve bilateral trade.
"We have produced very rich results through this (India) visit," Wen told reporters in New Delhi at the end a four-nation South Asia trip that included Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. "It is fair to say that this is a historic visit," he added.
On Monday, the two Asian giants also signed an accord that sets out a roadmap for resolving a border dispute that led to a brief but bitter war in 1962.
The Indians, however, say that it's only natural for them to try to improve relations with a major neighboring state like China. They argue that this should impede the efforts to build a stronger and larger relationship with the United States.
Media reports from New Delhi indicate an obvious excitement in the capital over the March 25th U.S. offer to make India a major world power. The Indians point out that the United States is already taking steps to implement the measures it announced on March 25. Recently, a delegation from the U.S. Department of Energy visited New Delhi with plans to help India produce nuclear energy. More visits are in the pipeline.
During the Cold War, India's relations with the United States were tense. India was a strong ally of the former Soviet Union, and when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, India supported the Soviet action.
The United States, on the other hand, had a close relationship with India's regional rival, Pakistan, particularly during the Afghan war, when Pakistan allowed Afghan rebels to use its territory for carrying out attacks on Soviet occupation forces. The United States also used Pakistani territory for supplying weapons to and the training of Afghan rebels.
America's relations with India and Pakistan suffered a major setback when they tested their nuclear weapons in May 1998, but the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States brought about a major change in U.S. policies toward South Asia.
Now both India and Pakistan are close U.S. allies, and the United States says it wants to maintain close ties to both nations.
(UPI State Department correspondent Krishnadev Calamur also contributed to this report.)