- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bush to visit India

President Bush will “chart a course for the future” when he visits India next week to discuss nuclear energy, terrorism and other issues vital to the relationship between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest one, Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen said yesterday.

“India and the United States have overlapping or converging security interests, ranging from counterterrorism to preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, from protecting sea lanes to fighting piracy, from natural disaster relief to peacekeeping,” he told reporters at the National Press Club.

Mr. Bush reached an agreement with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July to supply India with sensitive U.S. nuclear technology in return for India allowing international inspectors to monitor its civilian — but not its military — nuclear program.

The ambassador yesterday said, “The civilian nuclear understanding … meets three critical bench marks. It meets U.S. interests. It meets India’s interests, and it meets the interests of the international community.”

Mr. Sen noted that India has been developing nuclear energy since the 1950s and has never shared its technology with another nation.

On terrorism, he said India sympathized with the United States after the September 11, 2001, attacks because India has been the target of terrorists for decades.

“We knew then, as we do today, that democracies remain the prime target of terrorism, and they are also the best defense against it,” he said.

Mr. Sen added, “The forthcoming visit of President Bush to India is full of promise to consolidate what has been achieved and to chart the course for the future.”

“This is not crystal-ball gazing,” he noted, “but an objective recognition of the inherent strength and resilience of the growing strategic ties between the world’s largest and fastest-growing democracy [India] and the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy [the United States].”

Clash of cultures

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the images from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons have left many Muslims convinced that the United States has launched a “war on Islam,” a leading religious scholar said yesterday.

Sheik Mahmoud Ashour of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that he is on his first trip to the United States to promote a better dialogue between Muslims and Westerners. The sheik is part of a delegation of Egyptian scholars, journalists and activists who will meet with their American counterparts during the visit.

He told our correspondentDavid Sands that Islam as a religion has been unfairly tarnished in the West because of the actions of a few violent extremists.

“You can find terrorists in all religions,” he said, speaking through a translator. “Because a few Muslims have reacted violently in some situations, that does not mean Islam is a religion of terrorism.”

Emad Gad of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo blamed extremists rioting over the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad for damaging the image of Islam.

“This issue is one of Islamic extremists and political regimes using religion in order to gain support,” he told our correspondent Sharon Behn. “The exaggerations are coming from the regimes of Syria, Iran, Egypt that are using this issue to raise public opinion and send a message to the American administration.”

Mr. Gad also predicted that if Egypt had a true democracy, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood would come to power and present the Bush administration with another dilemma, like the one with the terrorist Hamas organization in power in the Palestinian territories.

However, he added, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is unlikely to ease his grip on power and allow full democracy without strong pressure from the United States.

“Mubarak doesn’t listen to his people, but he listens to the American administration,” Mr. Gad said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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