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Sen's last speech in DC extols N-deal

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March 05, 2009 12:24 IST
In perhaps what could be his valedictory address before he departs from Washington when his terms expires on March 31, the Indian ambassador to United States, Ronen Sen -- a key protagonist of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement -- said the consummation of the deal freed India from "an albatross around our necks," in the form of nuclear technology and fuel isolation that worsened after India's May 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests.

With the signing of the deal, Sen said, "We have got rid of the albatross -- it freed us in a way," and argued, "You can't overestimate the importance of that. It's a remarkable achievement."

Speaking at an event hosted by the US-India Business Council where the recent Asia Society Task Force Report on 'Delivering on the promise: Advancing US relations with India,' was being discussed, the outgoing envoy, who was the architect behind scripting the resurrection of the 123 Agreement as it lay virtually dormant for nearly a year, recalled how "a number of times we have given up," wondering that the deal would ever be completed.

In this regard, he profusely thanked the USIBC, and in particular its president Ron Somers, for being a catalyst in pushing the deal through, and acknowledged, "It took tremendous effort."

"It has opened up vistas which we could not contemplate earlier," he said, and added, "If we look back, we've come a long way," reaching milestone after milestone. "But we don't want to look to the past, we want to look to the future, and we can look toward the future with confidence," Sen said.

However, Sen said the relationship such as the one between the US and India, was a journey. "When you reach one point, you have to think of what lies ahead," Sen said.

"It's not that we've reached a stage that you can put the relationship on auto-pilot -- it needs care, you need to nurture it, till it reaches a certain critical mass," he added.

Sen acknowledged that "We have some challenges to overcome and these challenges are actually opportunities as we've discussed," and spoke of how both countries "have learnt to reach out to each other," and they have passed that station of mistrust and suspicion.

He conceded, "As free democracies there would inherently always be differences on one issue or the other, but we don't have today, I don't see any major area where you have a difference in terms of long-term objectives. None."

"Whether in strategic political areas -- you look at common challenges faced by terrorism, narcotics and drug trafficking,  trafficking in arms, people, as well as areas such as nuclear proliferation, Washington and New Delhi were in sync in combating these challenges", Sen said.

Particularly with regard to nuclear proliferation, Sen said, "If you really look at our region, we are one of those which potentially would be most affected by proliferation," and pointed out -- apparently referring to the erstwhile A Q Khan proliferation network in Pakistan -- "We have the biggest sources of proliferation in our neighbourhood."

"So, here also, there is a common threat, a common challenge to look at the future and cooperate," he added.

And, declaring India's commitment, he recalled India as being "the first country in Asia and the world to call for nuclear disarmament."

Sen said even on issues like climate change, India had always been wedded to the environment, and protection of the environment has been one of Mahatma Gandhi's most important tenants, and cooperating to alleviate the problem of greenhouse gases was a given because "we are the worst affected by climate change."

Returning to the exponential transformation of the US-India relationship in the past decade, the ambassador said, "This relationship has acquired a certain resilience of its own because it rests not only on shared ideals, shared values, shared aspirations, but it is an intersection of interests -- long-term interests."

But, Sen said, beyond this, it was also based "on mutual respect and mutual benefits, and it has been two-way."

He spoke of how US exports to India "have more than trebled," and of investment flow in both directions.

Sen said while it is true there were call centres located in India by American companies -- "what we call the jobs being Bangalored -- but you have Indian companies setting up call centres, BPOs over here as well," which was "not so well known, which we have to bring out."

"So this is two way," leading to "job creation in both countries," he added.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC