US President George W Bush says he is "absolutely committed to building an enhanced, comprehensive relationship" with India, and looks forward to working with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who he is scheduled to meet later this month on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
In an exclusive interview with Aziz Haniffa, national affairs editor, India Abroad -- the newspaper owned in the United States by rediff.com -- his first with a South Asian newspaper, on the eve of the Republican National Convention in New York, the President lauded India for being "an outstanding partner in the global war on terror," and said he sees India playing "an important role in consolidating democracy and peace in South Asia and the rest of the world."
The first part of a three-part interview:
With the advent of a new government in India, led by the Congress Party but a coalition comprising leftist and Communist parties, are you still committed to a long-term strategic partnership with India? Do you intend to implement the next steps in the strategic partnership that you announced in January, after you and then prime minister A B Vajpayee committed yourselves to such a partnership three years ago?
I am absolutely committed to building an enhanced, comprehensive relationship with the Government of India. The United States and India have common interests and we need to pursue a healthy, long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. I believe there is broad agreement with that point of view in India and the United States.
If you are still committed to that partnership, what are the specific areas where you see the most progress in the next few years?
India has been an outstanding partner in the global war on terror, and we expect that will continue. I believe there's a general consensus in India about the need to continue reforming the economy. This will benefit both our countries in the longer term. We will also continue to work hard together on moving forward the new initiative, the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership, to enhance our civil nuclear, space, and high technology cooperation as India's export control and nonproliferation regimes are strengthened. I also believe that India, as the world's most populous democracy, should have an important role in consolidating democracy and peace in South Asia and the rest of the world.
And, in this regard, do you believe the United States and India can be a unified catalyst in pushing for democratization in the world?
Yes. India is a good example to other developing countries that democracy can withstand and defeat terrorism, assassinations, wars, and poverty.
When you last met with Vajpayee on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York and hosted a luncheon for him at the Waldorf, you told him how much you were looking forward to visiting India, and mentioned to him that every time you run into Indian Americans, they keep urging you to visit India at your earliest [opportunity]. If re-elected, would a visit to India be one of your foreign policy priorities and if so, will it be an exclusive trip to India or will it also include other South Asian countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka?
Certainly, relations with India and security on the subcontinent will be high priorities during a second term. I very much hope I will have the opportunity to visit India.
A few days after the new government came into office in India, you spoke to the new Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to congratulate him. Besides offering him your best wishes, what were some of the other things the two of you discussed on your eight-minute call?
We had a good conversation. My intention was to congratulate him, to get acquainted, and to reinforce our desire to continue our very positive relationship with India under his government. I look forward to working with him.
Part II: 'We are not a mediator in Kashmir'
Photograph: LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images
Image: Uday Kuckian