'Heady Times' For India And the U.S.

By Nicholas Burns
Sunday, April 29, 2007

While Iraq and Iran have dominated recent headlines, the United States and India have quietly forged the strongest relationship the two countries have enjoyed since India's independence in 1947. For most of the past 60 years, the Cold War and vastly differing ideological and governing philosophies kept us, at best, fitful partners. That all began to change a decade ago, when President Bill Clinton's efforts led to the first great opening in our relations. In 2001 President Bush launched an even more ambitious drive, culminating in impressive agreements regarding civilian nuclear power, trade, science and agriculture with India's reformist prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

The pace of progress between Washington and Delhi has been so rapid, and the potential benefits to American interests so substantial, that I believe within a generation Americans may view India as one of our two or three most important strategic partners.

The symbolic and public centerpiece of our new partnership, of course, has been the nuclear agreement, which Congress approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in December. When fully implemented in 2008, this initiative will permit American and international companies to begin peaceful civilian nuclear cooperation with India for the first time in more than a generation. This would bring India out of its self-imposed isolation and into the international nonproliferation mainstream. It would help alleviate the chronic power shortages that hinder India's economic growth, particularly Singh's drive to raise the quality of life of the estimated 700 million Indians still living in dire poverty. It will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We expect American companies will be among the first to invest in and profit from the opening of this gigantic energy market. We hope India will move quickly to help us complete a final bilateral agreement to make this a reality.

While the civilian nuclear initiative has garnered the most attention, the U.S. and Indian governments have launched joint ventures in agriculture, space exploration, global pollution reduction, science and technology development, and efforts to combat HIV-AIDS. And there is more we should do together.

Our first priority is to continue giving governmental support to the huge growth in business between the Indian and American private sectors. The United States has reduced the time it takes Indian travelers to get visas by almost three months. Led by Prime Minister Singh, India is undertaking tough reforms to its economy to sustain the country's economic boom. Singh has also challenged the United States to help launch a second "green revolution" in India's vast agricultural heartland by enlisting the help of America's great land-grant institutions.

There are two more giant steps India and the United States must take to achieve a global partnership. First, India seeks U.S. assistance in helping to counter the wave of terrorist bombings of the past two years. The United States is ready. We are both victims of terrorism and need to work harder to establish the kind of trust required for effective joint work. Second, we can also do much more to create a stronger military partnership. After the 2004 tsunami devastated parts of Southeast Asia, our two militaries, along with Australia and Japan, led global efforts to help survivors. American companies had their largest presence ever at the recent Aero India air show in Bangalore. We need to build on an already impressive series of joint military exercises by improving the interoperability of our armed forces to respond to global contingencies. We also aim to complete a series of defense sales that meet India's needs and complement our overall defense relationship.

Finally, I am confident the United States and India can work closely together on the key foreign policy challenges in South Asia. Indian investment and infrastructure assistance is helping Afghanistan in its hour of need. We are working with Delhi to encourage energy-rich Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to establish oil and gas trade with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, thereby reducing the lure of long-term contracts with Iran. We are working together to try to stop the increasingly bloody civil war in Sri Lanka and to bring stability and, I hope, real democracy to Nepal and Bangladesh.

In some ways, our ambitious government agenda is merely playing catch-up to the recent explosion in business and cultural ties between Indians and Americans. There are more than 2 million people of Indian origin -- many of them now American citizens -- in the United States, making extraordinary contributions in academia, health care, information technology and business. It is one of the best educated and successful immigrant groups in our recent history. There are also 80,000 Indian students studying here, more than from any other country.

These are heady times for India and the United States. Every day I see signs of the strategic benefits our efforts can bring our two countries. With hard work and vision, we can realize the potential of a key 21st-century partnership of two great democracies.

The writer is undersecretary of state for political affairs.


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