- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2001

Following Clinton

President Clinton's chief adviser on South Asian affairs expects the incoming Bush administration to follow up on the policies begun in that region over the past four years.

Karl F. Inderfurth, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, said the Clinton administration began paying more attention to the region in Mr. Clinton's second term and those policies are working.

"I have great confidence that the new administration will follow through on this policy of greater engagement and that we will see continuity," Mr. Inderfurth told the Washington File of the Information Times, an Internet news service.

"I am encouraged by the fact that key officials of the new administration have already spoken out in a variety of ways about the importance of South Asia, about the importance of our new relationship with India."

Mr. Clinton made a five-day visit to India last year and hosted a visit to Washington by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Mr. Clinton also stopped briefly in Pakistan to talk with military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf and made the first visit by a U.S. president to Bangladesh.

Mr. Inderfurth emphasized the need for both India and Pakistan to renounce the use of nuclear weapons. They detonated nuclear devices in 1998, raising the risk of another conflict between the two countries that have fought three wars.

"We encouraged both India and Pakistan to move in the direction of global nonproliferation," Mr. Inderfurth said. "It is clear that the two countries must find ways to address their differences."

The visit to India was "a great success" that resulted in a "closer and qualitatively new relationship," he said. The visit to Pakistan signaled Washington's desire to "stay engaged with a long-standing friend," he added.

Mr. Inderfurth said the administration "devoted a higher priority" to the region at the beginning of the second term, after Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering noted that "for too long South Asia has been on the backside of the U.S. diplomatic globe."

Mr. Clinton's trip to the region was the first by a U.S. president in about 20 years.

Mr. Inderfurth predicted South Asia could soon rival China in its global importance.

"South Asia is home to one-fifth of the world's population," he said. "India has over 1 billion people now, and it may become the world's most populous country over the next two decades, replacing China.

"Size alone is not the reason for greater U.S. interest in South Asia. This region is strategically located. It is increasingly a part of the world's marketplace presenting vast new economic and commercial opportunities.

"The stability or instability of the region can have a profound impact around the world. Global efforts to address the challenges of nonproliferation, terrorism, climate change, infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, combating child labor, trafficking of women and children all of these require the involvement of the nations of South Asia.

"So, for all these reasons, this is a region of increasing strategic importance for the United States and, I believe, will increasingly be so in the 21st century."

'We made mistakes'

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk yesterday said the Clinton administration failed to be tough enough on both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute but denied U.S. policy favored Israel.

Mr. Indyk told the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem that, despite ongoing violence, the chance of war is less likely than he feared a month ago but the chance for peace is also weak.

"Certainly we made mistakes," he said of Clinton administration policies. "We should have been more forceful with both sides on core issues."

He dismissed Palestinian accusations that the United States is biased toward Israel.

"I don't believe we have anything to apologize for," he said.

He said the U.S. support for Israel gives it the strength it needs to make compromises in peace negotiations.

"If you want peace, you come to Washington because Washington has influence [with Israel]," he said.

Although the chance of a regional war has been reduced, he warned that the Middle East remains a tinderbox.

"You can light a fire in this part of the world, and it can spread very quickly," he said.

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