The United States has consistently thwarted Indian efforts to draw closer to the West, a senior Indian diplomat said shortly before leaving for talks with the Reagan administration in Washington.
"We are prepared to be as pro-Western as you will permit us to be. But every time we try to make an opening you kick us in the teeth. It is quite difficult," said Eric Gonsalves, the Foreign Ministry's secretary, or top civil servant, and India's chief U.S. watcher.
Relations between the United States and India, which calls itself the world's largest democracy, have been strained for decades despite massive amounts of U.S. food aid in the 1950s that kept millions of Indians from starving.
In an interview with American correspondents here over the weekend, Gonsalves said there are signs that the Reagan administration is returning to the confrontational cold war policies of John Foster Dulles that brought about many of the early strains between Washington and New Delhi. He accused the United States of increasing tensions by an arms race in the Indian Ocean-Persian Gulf area and suggested that Washington may have manufactured a Soviet threat to the gulf states to allow it to beef up its conventional weapons strength.
He also suggested that selling arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could provide those states with a false sense of security that could lead to their royal families being toppled as the late shah was in Iran.
Gonsalves also said the nationalism of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Iran serves as a greater barrier to Soviet moves toward the Persian Gulf than any American fleet, Rapid Deployment Force or "Pakistani mercenaries."
His comments about Saudi Arabia, repeated twice, appeared odd since the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud, is due here Monday for a two-day visit. Gonsalves hinted at one point about possible instability in Saudi Arabia, which he suggested could be fed by added U.S. arms sales to that country.
The tenor of Gonsalves' 90-minute interview seemed more combative than the milder tones that the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has used in recent months in its dealing with the new Reagan administration.
Gonsalves' meetings in Washington, starting Wednesday, were set up so he can explain India's fears and opposition to U.S. plans to increase Indian Ocean-Persian Gulf bases and sell arms to Pakistan. He said he has no great expectations of shifting that policy.
Gonsalves said he and Indian Atomic Energy Commission chairman Homi Sethna also will discuss the Reagan administration's policy on supplying nuclear fuel for the American-built reactor at Tarapur under an existing treaty. The U.S. has balked at further shipments since India refuses to open all its nuclear installations to international inspections to make sure no atomic weapons are being built.
Gonslaves called the U.S. hesitation to continue the fuel sales "one side wanting to welch" on an agreement.
He said India has been subjected "to the most harrowing provocation" from the American press and Congress because it refuses to go along with what it considers the United States' discriminatory nuclear nonproliferation policy.
India has sent signals, which Gonsalves hinted at but refused to confirm, that it would like to end the nuclear fuel agreement with the United States since the accord, in Indian eyes, is increasing tensions between the two countries.