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U.S.-Indian Relations In Spotlight As PM Arrives For White House Dinner

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be given the Obama administration's first White House state dinner
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be given the Obama administration's first White House state dinner
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama sits down for important talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today, and later tonight hosts his administration's first state dinner in India's honor.

The two men will have a lot to talk about, ranging from the insurgency in neighboring Pakistan to a perceived snub of India by Obama during his recent Asia tour.

RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully talked to Ashley Tellis to learn India's perspective on the two leaders' meeting. Tellis specializes in Asian issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a private policy-research center in Washington.

RFE/RL: Will President Barack Obama try to persuade Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reassure Pakistan that it has nothing to fear from India while Pakistan's military -- which is trained to fight a possible war with India -- is diverted fighting the Taliban insurgency?

Ashley Tellis:
There is nothing India can do. The Pakistanis have deployed their forces on the Indian border because they assume that there is an imminent threat that would be mounted from India. And I just don't see the evidence for that kind of an imminent threat. And so the kinds of things that people imagine that India can do, I think, [are] simply off the table.

Pakistan has to make a strategic judgment whether the internal threats really represent the true danger to Pakistan, or whether the danger still continues to be from India. And most international observers, I think, have reached the conclusion that the real challenge to Pakistan comes from within, not from without. So I think expecting the Indians to do something, whatever that something is, is simply not going to materialize.

RFE/RL: You have recommended that Obama urge the United Nations to make India a permanent member of the Security Council. What is your reasoning?

I proposed that for several reasons. First, I think it's inevitable, as the United Nations is expanded, and there will be an expansion of some sort that will have to take place within the next decade. I cannot imagine you can have an expanded Security Council without Indian representation.

Two, I think the U.S. sees India as a strategic partner in a range of global initiatives, and having India in such a council, I think, will be an important asset from the point of view of U.S. interests.

India's Importance

RFE/RL: You said India's role as a permanent member of the Security Council is "inevitable." Should I interpret your answer to mean that membership won't come very soon?

That's correct. There are several complicated issues with Security Council expansion. One is: What [are] the criteria that you use to actually have this expanded council?

Second, the more fundamental question is, what does an expanded council actually do for the United States? And there is a real risk that if you have too large an expansion, you could get a very unwieldy Security Council that doesn't really advance either American interests or the interests of global stability.

So I don't imagine that there's a decision that's going to be imminent with respect to how the council is going to be expanded. Which to my mind makes it all the more imperative that the U.S. get ahead of the curve and start signaling sooner rather than later the kinds of countries it would like to see represented in this expanded council, if and when it gets expanded.

RFE/RL: Some media reports have said that some Indians felt like Obama slighted their country during his recent tour of Asia because he never even mentioned their country once in public. What do you think?

I don't think it was deliberate, and I don't think it was intended to slight India. But the exclusion of India certainly has caught people's attention in New Delhi. And I think one of the opportunities that this trip offers is for the president to communicate clearly that he still sees India as a very desirable part of the Asian geopolitical order, and I suspect he will do that.

RFE/RL: After all, even before Obama's Asia tour, it was known in both Washington and in New Delhi that Singh was going to be honored with Obama's first White House state dinner, a sign of great respect. Doesn't that counterbalance Indians' sense that their country's been slighted?

I think so, because the Asians see India as increasingly as part of the continent -- it's a simple matter of geography -- and certainly in the last decade, Indian trade links, Indian political links, Indian social links with all the countries on the East Asian periphery have increased by tremendous leaps. And so certainly from within the continent, they see India as being one of the players on the field. And so the president's exclusion was certainly awkward.

Greenhouse Gases

RFE/RL: On to the environment: India has been resisting pressure from the West, including the United States, to reduce it greenhouse-gas emissions. What is India's position?

Well, the Indian position is based on the argument that three-fourths of all the anthropogenic carbon dioxide that is currently in the atmosphere essentially comes from First World [highly industrialized] sources. And so their argument is that, to the degree that climate change and global warming is a collective catastrophe, essentially the First World has been responsible for the creation of that catastrophe. Henceforth, they argue, the First World should bear the brunt of undertaking the mitigation necessary to deal with the problem.

Now, this is at least [India's] declared negotiating position. I think in practice they would be willing to arrive at curbs on their own, but they will certainly not intimate what the extent of those curbs will be until they first hear from the developed world, particularly the United States, what Washington proposes to do with respect to cutting emissions.

RFE/RL: Do you think countries in the West want India and China to cut their emissions to help make the emission targets easier for everyone -- Western nations included -- to achieve a global goal for reduced emission?

Well, I think that's the game that everyone is playing. Everyone is playing a game, you know, of "After You, Alphonse" in which you go first and then we'll let you know what is it that we can do unilaterally. I just think that that is a losing proposition.

RFE/RL: Under President George W. Bush, India and the United States agreed to a significant treaty on civil nuclear energy that seems to have ended decades of mistrust between the two countries. Do the Indians see Obama as being on the same page as Bush on that treaty?

I think so. I think President Obama has certainly been a beneficiary of what President Bush managed to achieve through the nuclear agreement with India. And I think contrary to Indian fears early on, the president has not backtracked on any of the American commitments to New Delhi. He has been extremely supportive in terms of moving the process forward, and I think that's been to the benefit of both states.

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