- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Obama administration is deeply committed to its relationship with India despite concerns to the contrary, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday.

William J. Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, tackled a prevalent belief in India that the Obama administration is less committed to a relationship with India than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Mr. Burns, who previously served in the Bush administration, said there was bipartisan commitment in Washington to the U.S.-India relationship.

“Never has there been a moment when India and America mattered more to one another,” Mr. Burns said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

He said progress in the U.S.-India partnership requires “continued hard work and vision on both sides.”

“It requires patience and creativity. And it requires honesty in dealing head-on with concerns and doubts that arise on both sides,” he said.

Noting that neither side could afford to gloss over questions about the other’s commitment to the relationship, Mr. Burns said, “Some in India do worry today that the United States seeks to ‘re-hyphenate’ relations with India … that we see India mainly through the prism of preoccupations in Afghanistan and Pakistan … that we won’t push Pakistan hard enough on terrorists who kill and threaten Indians … that we will hurry toward the exit in Afghanistan and leave India holding the strategic pieces.

“Some in India worry that the new administration is tempted by visions of a ‘G-2’ world … that we’ve ‘downgraded’ India because we see Asia exclusively through the lens of an emerging China, with India’s role secondary,” Mr. Burns said. “Some Americans, for their part, worry that it is India which ‘self-hyphenates’ … that India sometimes has a hard time realizing how far its influence and its interests have taken it beyond its immediate neighborhood … that India doesn’t always see as clearly as others do how vital its own role in Asia is becoming.

“Some Americans worry that India is ambivalent about its own rise in the world, still torn between its G-77 and G-20 identities. And some Americans wonder if India has the drive to overcome obstacles to its own ambitious development efforts, to cut through the ‘license raj’, and speed up reform and attract more investment in more areas,” he said.

Mr. Burns said the Obama administration has been, and will remain, deeply committed to supporting India’s rise and to building the strongest possible partnership between the two countries.

He noted that a third of the U.S. Cabinet has visited India in the first 16 months of the Obama administration, and President Obama himself intends to visit India later this year. Mr. Obama hosted his administration’s first state dinner in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, in November.

Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Obama administration has been less focused on its relationship with India in comparison to the Bush administration. But, she added, “the contrast is much less than is commonly believed in India.”

Mrs. Schaffer said those who believe the U.S. doesn’t care about India “aren’t focusing on the actual accomplishments and are giving too much attention to symbols.”

Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, “I think the single most important reason for the belief that the Obama administration does not care about India is: The Obama administration is consumed by problems both at home and abroad, and India is simply not a problem.”

Mr. Burns said the U.S. does not see relations in Asia — specifically with India and China — as a zero-sum game. He added that U.S. relations with Pakistan also do not come at the expense of India. “We refuse to accept the notion that somehow we can have strong relations with only one country in South Asia at a time,” he said.

He said the U.S. had an interest in better relations between India and Pakistan, but would “not inject ourselves into issues that divide the two governments unless India and Pakistan ask for our help.”

A National Security Strategy released last week said the Obama administration had among its highest priorities a commitment to expand its partnership with India.

The U.S. and India are participating in a strategic dialogue in Washington this week. The U.S. side is led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Indian delegation by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

In case the Indian side is still not convinced of his commitment to the U.S.-India relationship, Mr. Obama will attend a State Department reception for Mr. Krishna on Thursday.

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