STABLE SOUTH ASIA: A CRITICAL PRIORITY FOR THE U.S.

"US-India bilateral relationship burgeoning"

THE common goal of safeguarding liberty and combating terrorism and oppression has united two democracies-India and the US-and stimulated a burgeoning bilateral relationship based on the many similarities and values that cultures of these two countries share. "The relationship between the United States and India is playing an increasingly important role in regional and world affairs in the post-Cold War world as our democratic nations work together to address new dynamics and threats in a multi-polar world," says India-friend and Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in an interview with Amitabha Sen. Stating that from the beginning President Bush has sought to expand the US relationship with India, the first Hispanic woman elected to the US Congress said "the U.S. and India will continue to jointly address threats as terrorism and proliferation, while expanding commercial relations to spur mutually beneficial economic growth and prosperity."    

On the issue of Indo-Pak relationship, Ros-Lehtinen observed that "a secure and stable South Asia and support for the Pakistan-India peace initiative, is a critical priority for the U.S.  As such, it is vitally important that military sales to Pakistan be viewed within the context of the existing military balance and that due consideration be given to offsetting sales to India to maintain regional stability and security."   

Branding Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh as the architect of India's original economic liberalization and reform program she said that "these policies are the foundation upon which India's current impressive economic growth is built. Given the strategic significance of the South Asian region to the U.S, the importance of Dr. Singh's diplomacy, the role India can play in contributing to US objectives cannot be overstated."   

AS: From estrangement in the Cold War era to engagement in dialogues for closer relations, one finds perceptible changes in the US-India bilateral relations today. How would you like to assess the level of mutual trust and confidence between these two Democracies?  

IR: I have been privileged to witness and directly participate in the growing Indian-American bond.  Our common goal of safeguarding liberty and combating terrorism and oppression has united our nations and stimulated a burgeoning relationship based on the many similarities and values that our cultures share.  

Simultaneously, the United States has been blessed with a strong, vibrant Indian-American community who has significantly contributed to our culture, our prosperity, and who have deeply embraced zthe ideals of Democracy.       

In the coming years, India and the U.S will face several challenges and I am confident that the strong bilateral ties between India and the United States will serve as an example of fruitful and positive bilateral relations. 

AS: Do you find any major shift in India's foreign policy on the US being followed by New Delhi today from that of the Vajpayee-led UDA government?   

IR: As the world's 2nd most populous nation and the largest democracy in the world, India and the United States have forged a long-lasting friendship, exemplified by our dedication to the preservation of democracy across the globe.  This relationship is based on common values and believes.  As such, there are no significant shifts in policies despite changes in the Administrations in India or the U.S. I am confident that the relationship will continue to flourish. 

AS: What is the greatest achievement, if we may say so, of the Bush Administration in getting closer to India?  

IR: From the start of his Administration, President Bush has sought to expand the U.S. relationship with India.  From counter-terrorism, to security issues, climate change and commerce, to strengthening democracy and fighting HIV/AIDS, the President has looked to India as a partner. 

Thus, our two democracies are working together more intensely than ever before to make the world freer, more peaceful, and more prosperous. Our collaboration can only make the world a safer and more just place.  

AS: Yet another crucial issue that hugely impact the South Asian regional affairs is Indo-Pak relations. When both the country heads are saying that the peace process initiated last year is "irreversible", the US has accorded Pakistan a Major non-NATO ally status and has been assured of F16?   Commenting on the US decision you said: "military sales to Pakistan should be cleared only after Islamabad's full compliance on terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."  Can we have your views on this crucial issue in greater detail?  

IR: Concerning the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, Congress must approve the sale of this high-technology export, as in this case. During this familiar process, it is my belief that Congress must condition these and other military sales to Pakistan on that country’s cooperation in the dismantlement and full disclosure of the activities of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, along with Pakistan’s fulfillment of its international obligations. 

Simultaneously, a secure and stable South Asia and support for the Pakistan-India peace initiative, is a critical priority for the U.S.  As such, it is vitally important that military sales to Pakistan be viewed within the context of the existing military balance and that due consideration be given to offsetting sales to India to maintain regional stability and security. 

AS: "With all the nations that are getting into the nuclear club and this global war on terror, more and more we depend on allies like India to help us in that troubled area," you said some time back. Do you feel there is a greater chance of India getting a permanent seat in India with Veto power if it signs the CTBT? Are you expecting any major announcement in that respect during the Indian Prime Minister's State visit this month?  

IR: There are multiple proposals being offered regarding expansion of the United Nations Security Council membership with a number of factors affecting the process—such as balance in representation between developing and developed countries, appropriate and equitable geographic representation, permanent vs. rotating seats.  Nevertheless, the Congress feels strongly that permanent membership on an enlarged Council must be predicated on the member state’s commitment and adherence to its obligations under all applicable international treaties and norms, particularly those relating to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons proliferation, and including human rights standards. 

The United Nations Security Council’s core responsibility is the promotion of international peace and security.  As such, any member to the Council must undertake the necessary steps to live up to that obligation and meet related criteria.

AS: The US no longer sees India through the lens of the Cold War as an ally of the former Soviet Union. Instead it (the US) sees India as important actor on the regional stage and is seen as an emerging  global power. As an India friend do you think India's foreign policy on the US may ultimately recognize the country as an US ally or India would prefer to maintain the status of a major partner of the US?  

IR: The relationship between the United States and India is playing an increasingly important role in regional and world affairs in the post-Cold War world as our democratic nations work together to address new dynamics and threats in a multipolar world.  The U.S. and India will continue to jointly address threats as terrorism and proliferation, while expanding commercial relations to spur mutually beneficial economic growth and prosperity. 

AS: "India is a rising economic influence of power in the international system.. It is emerging as a potentially very stabilizing and positive force in international politics," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recently told the US Wire Service correspondents. How would you like to see the role and contribution of the US in helping India shape up as a global power? Could you identify the areas that would benefit both?  

IR: The relationship between India and the United States has made rapid and striking advances in all areas - economic, political, security, defense and science and technology, to name only a few. Our two countries are cooperating on a range of issues related to regional political and economic stability in the world.  As a result, I believe this relationship between the world's largest and oldest democracies will grow stronger still. 

AS: Do you find significant changes in Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA government's foreign policy on the US from that of Mr. Vajpayee-led UDA government?  

IR: Dr. Singh made his reputation as the architect of India's original economic liberalization and reform program in the early-1990's, when he was finance minister. These policies are the foundation upon which India's current impressive economic growth is built. As Prime Minister, Dr. Singh has also embarked on an active engagement policy with all of India's neighbors, including resolving difficult issues with Pakistan. Given the strategic significance of the South Asian region to the U.S, the importance of Dr. Singh's diplomacy, the role India can play in contributing to US objectives cannot be overstated. 

AS: The US government, investors and others are talking about trade barriers that exist in India. What would be your suggestion to New Delhi government to facilitate American investments in India? Would you be expecting any major announcement in this regard during Indian Prime Minister's visit?  

IR: The US Government recognizes the enduring significance of the relationship between our two great nations.  One particular area of great potential for Indo-U.S. relations is in trade and commercial cooperation.  India’s economy has expanded rapidly since reforms in the early 1990s.  Exports to the U.S. have more than doubled since 1995.  In order to fully exploit this economic potential, we encourage Prime Minister Singh not only to continue to pursue important second-generation reforms, particularly with respect to deregulation, but to share his thoughts directly on India's role as a regional economic power.   

AS: Last but not least. The EU Trade Commissioner said that Doha would be the litmus test for India's leadership in trade negotiations. Agriculture being the mainstay, what role you would be expecting of India as leader of developing nations' block at WTO?  

IR: India’s long-term economic potential is tremendous, and recent strides in the technology sector have brought international attention to such high-tech centers as Bangalore and Hyderabad.  In addition, the Indian economy has grown rapidly over the past decade, with real GDP growth averaging some 6% annually, in part due to the continued structural reform, including trade liberalization.  As leader of the developing nation’s bloc at the WTO, India not only serves as an primary example of sustained economic growth, the emergence of transparent and accountable business practices clearly demonstrates the economic benefits of democracy.  

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Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, born in Havana, Cuba, on July 15, 1952, represents Florida in the US Congress since August, 1989.  She was elected in 1989 as a Republican to the 101ths Congress by special election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of United States Representative Claude D. Pepper.She has been re-elected to the eight succeeding Congresses. She had been a member of the Florida state house of representatives from 1982-1986 and member of the Florida state senate, 1986-1989.


July 18, 2005