- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

Although he won’t dance with villagers in Rajasthan like President Clinton did or see the Taj Mahal, President Bush will spend two days in India this week pressing economic ties he says are crucial to the United States.

Some Americans see India as a threat to U.S. jobs and express concern about the country’s cheap labor markets, but the president thinks more Americans will find jobs if U.S. companies can forge ahead in India, where U.S. imports grew by more than 30 percent last year.

“Opening markets is difficult. It’s difficult for a lot of countries, and it’s not easy for America, either. But the purpose of the trip is to continue to work to open up markets, because opening markets and free trade that’s fair trade will benefit workers and families on both sides of the trading equation,” Mr. Bush told Indian journalists at the White House last week.

Mr. Bush’s free-trade message is likely to be overshadowed by a stalled deal on India’s civil nuclear program, as well as protests against the U.S. president and his policies.

After months of talks to finalize a deal hammered out in principle during a July visit to the White House by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it appears that Mr. Bush will have no agreement to sign during his short stay.

“It’s taking time to work through,” White House National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters Friday. “And, again, we’re trying to see if we can use the visit as a forcing function. If we can, great. If not, we’ll continue to work on it after the visit’s over.”

Under the deal, which requires congressional approval, the United States would end restrictions on supplying India with civilian nuclear technology while India would open its civilian nuclear sites to inspectors for the United Nations. India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

India has insisted that its military nuclear installations be exempt from international scrutiny. Determining which civilian sites to open for inspection has been difficult for negotiators.

The president leaves today for New Delhi, where his official schedule begins Thursday. After a day of bilateral talks with Indian officials capped by a state dinner, the president will travel Friday to Hyderabad, a high-tech city that some call “Cyberabad.”

The president also will make a brief stop in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he will hold talks with President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Bush plans to use the daylong visit to underscore U.S.-Pakistani cooperation, even though Human Rights Watch has called on the president to urge Gen. Musharraf to end military rule.

“He’s got a tough assignment. On the one hand, he’s got people trying to kill him; and on the other hand, he’s taking this country … further down the road of democracy,” Mr. Bush told Pakistani reporters last week.

In Pakistan, unlike in India, Mr. Bush will take in a cricket match. Asked to choose between watching a Hollywood movie or attending a match, he said: “I’m a cricket match person. … It’s a great pastime.”


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