- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

When Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee talks with President Clinton tomorrow, he will not be begging. The United States is India's largest export destination, with $12.79 billion in two-way trade in 1999 alone. And his country doesn't just deal in manufactured products. His countrymen now number 1.5 million in America, with an average mean family income of over $60,000. But the United States is still making working visas difficult for Indians and has sanctions on export privileges due to India's nuclear tests in 1998.

While the United States' concern is well-founded, it must consider that the sanctions have not prevented the growth of exports to the United States. On the contrary, there has been an increase of 27 percent in exports from January to May of 2000, as compared to that period the previous year, an embassy report said. For a country "punished" for its nuclear testing misdeeds, India is thriving.

Much of the brain power behind that technology is now in Silicon Valley where Indians collectively earned $60 billion last year. This also helps explain the fact that the United States is happy to provide one-third of the 115,000 H1-B two-year working visas to Indians. In return for promising Mr. Vajpayee fewer export restrictions and providing more visas faster, the United States will want something in return as a sign that our trading partner is ruled by a stable government.

India could start by cleaning up its human rights record and seeking to quell religious violence. To add to the string of violence which has included Christian church burnings and killings of Kashmiris living in disputed border areas, Muslim-Hindu violence is now causing unrest in the country.

The United States wants a trade partner it can trust. India has shown it has the potential to provide the products and the people who could make that possible for years to come. If Mr. Vajpayee returns home with the will to ensure those assets through reform of human rights standards there, he has the power to build a positive partnership for the next administration and beyond.

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