By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010; A09
The Obama administration is hosting a high-level dialogue this week with India, part of an ongoing effort to convince the South Asian behemoth that Washington cares about more than counterterrorism in the region and supports India's claim to global power.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will head a high-level delegation at a State Department meeting Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, national security adviser James L. Jones and other senior officials.
The meeting follows similar "strategic dialogue" sessions with Afghanistan last month and Pakistan in March, and it will bring together Cabinet officials from across the government to meet with their counterparts. But while the Afghan war and regional security issues are on the agenda, the administration has emphasized that the meeting is more akin to the "whole of government" sessions Clinton held this spring in China and Brazil.
The White House has put considerable effort into wooing India, which it sees as a potentially major international trade and security partner. President Obama held his first state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November and plans to visit India in the fall.
In his National Security Strategy released last week, Obama said the U.S.-India alliance will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century, along with U.S. ties with other "emerging powers." In a symbolic gesture not extended to Afghanistan or Pakistan, the president will go to the State Department on Thursday for a reception Clinton will host for the Indian delegation.
India has fond memories of the Bush administration, which signed a historic civil nuclear agreement that it considers a high point of bilateral engagement. Obama must convince India that growing U.S. engagement with China -- which India sees as a rival and an occasionally threatening power -- and the administration's preoccupation with Afghanistan and Pakistan will not be at New Delhi's expense.
U.S. efforts to forge stronger ties with Pakistan, India's traditional adversary, have unsettled the Indians, who believe the administration is being duped by Pakistani pledges to sever ties with insurgent groups such as those held responsible for the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai. Pakistan, for its part, sees Indian efforts to play an active role in Afghanistan as part of a plot to encircle Pakistan.
"We do not see relations in Asia as a zero-sum game," Undersecretary of State William J. Burns said Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Never has there been a moment when India and America mattered more to one another," he said, "and never has there been a moment when partnership between India and America mattered more to the rest of the globe."
"The simple truth is India's strength and progress on the world stage is deeply in the strategic interest of the U.S.," Burns said. "This administration has been, and will remain, deeply committed to supporting India's rise."
In a Wednesday article following Burns's speech, the Times of India reported approvingly that "the United States is heartily backing India's rise again after briefly flirting with the idea of a G-2 clinch with China."
The world's most populous nation and largest democracy, India also has the second-fastest-growing economy, behind China's. U.S. and Indian officials hope this week's meetings will lead to improved trade and political relations, along with new engagement in agriculture, energy and other areas. U.S. firms are among those bidding for a $10 billion sale of 126 advanced fighter jets to the Indian air force, currently the world's biggest defense tender.
Despite India's phenomenal growth, it remains hobbled by a decaying infrastructure, leaden bureaucracy and vast swaths of poverty. Experts estimate that India will need $1.7 trillion in investment over the next decade to reach its economic potential.
"Some Americans worry," Burns said, "that India is ambivalent about its own rise in the world, still torn between its G-77 and G-20 identities." The G-77 is the group of nonaligned states from the developing world that established a United Nations caucus four decades ago, largely to counterbalance superpower dominance.
Obama has declared that the G-20, an expansion of the traditional G-8 group of wealthy nations to include India, Brazil and other emerging powers, is the dominant structure in the world economy.
U.S. businesses have been frustrated by India's slow progress in passing a law limiting liability for foreign companies in the case of industrial accidents, required for full implementation of the civil nuclear agreement. The agreement, which gives nuclear-armed India access to U.S. technology and fuel, is worth billions to U.S. companies.
In a speech Wednesday to the U.S.-India Business Council, Krishna said his government remains committed to passage of the law this year. Despite ongoing Indian concern about the Afghan war, he said, economic and technological cooperation remain the centerpiece of U.S.-India cooperation.