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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit came at a time when a number of wrinkles had crept into the bilateral relationship between India and the United States, especially over nuclear and defence cooperation. However, the visit was an exercise in reassuring each other that the Indo-US relationship is defined in more than mercantile terms. The possibility of a partnership politically deep and broad enough to handle New Delhi's and Washington's concerns about Af-Pak and terror on the one hand and their converging interests in Southeast Asia on the other was, and continues to be, real. That was evident, among other things, in the call for India to extend its sphere of interest beyond South Asia and look at Southeast and Central Asia, where China is dominant. A weakening US is looking for partnerships in sharing not just some of its global security burden but also maintaining political and economic stability in the region.
Clinton's visit was also contextualised by the recent decision of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group to not export ENR (enrichment and reprocessing) technologies to NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) non-signatories. It is another matter that India already has nuclear weapons and either one or both of the ENR technologies. But the NSG's sanctimoniousness cannot, and should not, be countered by India presenting itself as a plaintiff. On that front, Delhi needs astute and aggressive diplomacy, especially with the nuclear big three — the US, Russia and France — and using its bilateral leverage with each to redress the ENR problem. So it was necessary for Delhi to keep dribbling the ball, even as the US and India mutually reassured each other. Now, India has been assured that the NSG norms will not affect the Indo-US nuclear deal, along with Washington's commitment to a "strong civil nuclear energy cooperation" as well as India's full membership in the four export control regimes, including the NSG. As the largest market for nuclear power, after China, in the near future, India cannot be in any doubt of its capacity to influence decisions of the major nuclear providers.