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The Rediff Special/ J N Dixit

Indo-US Relations: Delhi dialogue and after

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US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and his team concluded the eighth round of bilateral discussions with India and Pakistan between January 29 and February 2. Announcements both from Delhi and Islamabad at the end of these talks are that the US will continue its dialogue on the sensitive issue of non-proliferation over a period of time.

Both the atmospherics and future prospects of these talks indicate a practical non-confrontationist orientation, which is good for relations between Pakistan and the US, India and the USA bilaterally and also for trilateral interaction on various issues of common concern.

The public pronouncements and speeches of both Deputy Secretary of State Talbott and Assistant Secretary of State Karl F Inderfurth before their South Asian visit gave clear indications that the United States had decided to adopt a stance of continuing negotiations with both India and Pakistan, and that the US will conduct these negotiations taking into account the strategic and technological realities as they have emerged in South Asia since May 1998.

The composition of Talbott's delegation was significant. He had Inderfurth, Vice-Chairman of the US Joint chiefs of Staff Committee General Joseph Ralston, Assistant Secretary in charge of Disarmament Einhora and a representative from the National Security Council dealing with South Asia, plus Matt Daley as special adviser. Daley's knowledge of recent developments in South Asia is unmatched, rooted in his very successful tenure as the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in New Delhi between 1993 and 1997.

The composition of the delegation indicated that the focus of the United States was not narrow, centred only on non-proliferation issues. The objective was clearly to have an exchange of views on the multi-faceted aspects of bilateral relations between India and the United States in terms of political, economic, technological and defence relations. Information available at the conclusion of the discussions in Delhi is that the dialogue indeed covered the entire spectrum of Indo-US relations in a broader politics-strategic perspective.

Non-proliferation and stabilisation of the nuclear and missile capacities at levels acceptable to the current international non-proliferation agenda of the great powers involved remained the central point in these discussions. What then has been the outcome of this latest round of discussions and what are the anticipations on which India should structure its policies towards the United States?

The first prediction for Indian policies towards the United States is inevitable, given the current power equations in the world, viz, that sustaining a practical, friendly and co-operative relationship with the United States is of importance to India in political, technological, economic and strategic terms.

The second prediction is that the problem arising out of India's nuclear weaponisation in Indo-US relations have to be resolved by realistic mutual accommodation which is responsible to US concerns without diminishing India's strategic autonomy to ensure its national security in an evolving and changing regional and global security environment.

The third prediction would be for India for acknowledge the reality that the non-proliferation agenda of the United States is different from India's approach to non-proliferation and disarmament. The US approach is animated by global strategic concerns. It is not India-specific, while the Indian approach is India-specific with the additional dimension of a firm commitment to bring about non-discriminatory non-proliferation and general disarmament.

Leaving aside the details and nuance of bilateral negotiations between Talbott and Jaswant Singh, the broad policy framework of the United States can be discerned from the policy pronouncements of President Clinton and senior State Department officials like Talbott.

Clinton, in his state of the Union message on January 19, 1999 singled out India, North Korea and Pakistan as countries where the United States would seek to restrain the spread of nuclear weapons and missiles. Talbott, while outlining a practical and reasonable approach towards India and Pakistan, emphasised that the primary terms of reference of the United States for these negotiations would be the resolutions of the UN Security Council, the G-8 and the P-5.

It is obvious, therefore, that persuading India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and to ensure India's abiding by regimes like the Missile Control Technology Regime remain the overall objective of the United States. The operational object is, in Mr Talbott's words, 'over a time we will be able to reach an understanding on non-proliferation.'

Stabilisation of Indo-US relations in terms of the non-proliferation issues has, therefore, been stipulated in four benchmarks of US policies, namely, India should sign the CTBT, should adhere to the FMCT when it is finalised, agree to a moratorium on further production of fissile material, thirdly not develop or flight-test ballistic missiles and nuclear weapon capable aircraft and further strengthen export controls on nuclear and fissile materials and nuclear and missile-related technologies.

J N Dixit, a former foreign secretary, occasionally contributes to these pages.

J N Dixit, continued

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