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Progress and Challenges in India Trip

Author: Robert McMahon, Editor
July 20, 2009

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's visit to India continued to point toward a strengthening of ties after a series of official and nontraditional diplomatic contacts. Clinton, the most senior Obama administration official to visit India, delivered a July 20 speech at Delhi University stressing a "comprehensive strategic approach" (NYT) to U.S.-India relations, as well as greater exchanges among business people, students, and civil society actors. The talk came ahead of an announced deal that would allow the United States to monitor military equipment it sells to India to safeguard nonproliferation. The deal, not yet formally signed, would open the way to significant arms deals (Reuters). Clinton said Indian officials had also approved two sites for U.S. companies to build nuclear power plants. In addition, she said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had accepted an invitation to make a state visit to Washington in November.

But her visit so far has also highlighted lingering disagreements between the two governments, especially on climate change, and a U.S. push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world. Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said on July 19 that India is not in a position to "take legally binding emissions targets" (WashPost).

In an Expert Brief, CFR's Evan A. Feigenbaum says the United States should be prepared to manage its disagreements with India over issues like climate change by focusing on the greater potential for bilateral economic deals. "One way forward," he writes, "would be to agree on innovative bilateral initiatives-for instance, a U.S.-India renewable energy partnership, or a U.S.-India Bilateral Investment Treaty-that could provide ballast if the United States and India continue to disagree on multilateral climate and trade arrangements." Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur note in Foreign Affairs that the recent electoral victory of the Congress Party should open the way for more government reforms that can spur economic growth. To take advantage of this, they write, "the United States should gently prod New Delhi to tackle reforms in such nettlesome areas as labor law, land acquisition legislation, and the power sector."

Also highlighting the economic dimension to relations are former U.S. ambassador to India Richard F. Celeste, and David J. Karl, director of studies at the Pacific Council on International Policy, who write: "A full agenda awaits a rejuvenated official dialogue, including further trade liberalization in the advanced technology sector, crafting a treaty governing the expanding investment relationship, and devising cooperative policies to address each country's human capital challenges. Other priorities range from bolstering collaboration in agricultural research, and extension to harmonizing pharmaceutical testing protocols and product standards."

Analysts also see improved prospects for cooperation on counterterrorism between the two countries. Clinton made a gesture of solidarity toward India's terrorism fight by spending two nights (Foreign Policy) at the start of her trip in a Mumbai hotel, one of the sites of terrrorist attacks last year that killed over 170 people.

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