• Need for bilateral investment treaty to ensure fair treatment of US investors
• Immigration issue a great concern
• Outsourcing issue be addressed in comprehensive way
• Nuke deal not in India’s best interests

Important strides made in many areas by the Bush Administration notwithstanding, there are areas where two countries can more fully work together to develop stronger relationships between the two democracies—the US and India--during the Presidentship of Mr. Barack Obama, so feels Mr. Jim McDermott, Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. Mr. McDermott who feels his “friendship for India has not and will never change” said as a longtime Friend of India he believes that the civil nuclear cooperation pact with the US is not in best interests of India and “will introduce additional dangers to the region, and so I voted my conscience and voted no”. He expressed this feeling in an interview with Amitabha Sen, Executive Editor before the new Presidential inauguration on January 20, 2009.

So far as interest of Indian Americans is concerned, McDermott identifies immigration as one of crucial issues that the Obama Administration has to address with great care. “I think the next President has to tackle the immigration issue, which is a great concern of many Indian-Americans.”

On US-India bilateral trade the Congressional Co-chair maintains that to create incentives for investment in India, a bilateral investment treaty would be an important treaty. This treaty would basically provide a way in which US investors know that they would be treated fairly in India, he added.

On sensitive issue of Outsourcing McDermott said: “Issues like this and others must be addressed in a comprehensive way, but we must first work to stabilize the economic crisis.”

Text of Interview

AS: Sir, as a close friend of India you are most welcome to this interview with www.indiaonestop.com that also seeks to help build up closer and stronger India-United States relationships. How would you like to describe the bilateral relationships that developed between these two democracies during the Bush era ?

JM: I think the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and India is as strong as it has ever been, and I think the Bush Administration made important strides in many areas in building upon much of the bilateral cooperation initiated during the Clinton Administration. While I believe there are areas where our two countries can more fully work together, I believe the relationships between the people and governments of India and the United States are very strong.

AS: In view of your long friendship with India and Indian Americans what would get the top most priority and importance that you and the Indian Americans would be expecting from the new US President Barack Obama ?

JM: Of course, the economy is the overwhelming issue that the new President and Congress will face, but the top domestic issue is health care reform and I will continue to advocate for a comprehensive solution that covers every American. On the international front, I think the next President has to tackle the immigration issue, which is a great concern of many Indian-Americans. I am confident that President Obama will work with Congress to put together a proposal that makes sense for both immigrant families and the American economy.

AS: In one of the recent meetings of the National Federation of Indian-American Associations you have urged Barack Obama to visit India first when he makes his maiden overseas visit because it would send a powerful message to the entire world. What "message" you are hinting at ?

JM: My "message" by that recommendation is quite straightforward: South Asia is as important as Europe and our foreign policy must reflect that by truly being global. There is no doubt in my mind that India is an important geopolitical and economic power and my recommendation reflects that. It also shows our support for democracy and the rule of law.

AS: Sir, for any country to grow and prosper it needs to have good, peace-loving and friendly neighbors. India's peace process is intermittently punctuated by the Jammu and Kashmir issue and for last two/three years also by terrorist activities allegedly being generated from the land of Pakistan. Allegations are also there terrorists are taking shelter in Bangladesh. As a big brother in South Asia India has a special responsibility to maintain peace and harmony. India is discharging its responsibilities even in extreme cases like Parliament attack or serial terror attacks in Mumbai. But if India's persuasive policy is taken as country's' weakness what action do you think India should take if such acts are allowed to continue? Are you happy with the role of the Bush Administration in this respect as a common friend of India and Pakistan? Would you be expecting a tougher stand to be taken by the Obama Administration on this issue or soft pedal it ?

JM: No one should doubt the commitment of the United States and our new President to making the world safe. At the same time, understand this: Diplomacy is never weakness and always must precede military action. I strongly supported the selection of Senator Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and here is what I said the day of the announcement:

”There is no American more capable or better able to serve our nation as Secretary of State than Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and I enthusiastically applaud the news that she has accepted an invitation to serve from President-elect Barack Obama.

In my role as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, as well as my international trade and development efforts in Africa and elsewhere in the world, I know firsthand that the world has been waiting, and hoping, for a new era in U.S. foreign policy. For instance, Sub-Saharan Africa can expect Mrs. Clinton to be a staunch supporter of expanded trade through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which has been one of my top international priorities and one that President Bill Clinton first enacted into law.

Today, in one bold stroke, President-elect Obama has said in word and deed that America intends to reclaim its role as world leader. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton gives immediate credibility to the new Administration and this news will be welcomed and strongly supported around the world."

AS: Do you foresee any major policy shift in the Obama Administration towards India from that of the Bush Administration ?

JM: Respect for the sovereignty of nations and the need to work cooperatively with nations should be paramount in U.S. foreign policy.

AS: While talking about US-India relationships an obvious reference is made to the civil nuclear cooperation agreement that both the countries have signed few months back. How would you like to describe these courageous steps taken by India, its Prime Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee in particular ? The Opposition, the Left in particular, still maintains that India's sovereignty is jeopardized because of this agreement. Your comment please.

JM: Friends tell friends the truth, and as a long time friend of India I believe the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act, as introduced in the House of Representatives, is not in India's best interests, and will introduce additional dangers to the region, and so I voted my conscience and voted no. This was one of the hardest votes I have ever had to cast, because I know that friends also support friends, and my friendship for India has not and will never change.

As presented to the House, the legislation undermines the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that can only serve to destabilize the region in coming years. In my judgment there were insufficient safeguards in the bill and that worries me greatly. With a nuclear-armed India and Pakistan separated by a border where violence is all too frequent, I cannot see how giving India additional nuclear capacity will not be countered in Pakistan. In other words, despite the goal of providing additional energy, I worry we might be fueling a nuclear arms race.

The NOT has been the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy for a generation and making an exception for India makes it exceptionally hard to use the argument against the nuclear ambitions of Iran and others. How can we credibly declare that what is acceptable for one nation in an unstable region is unacceptable for another nation in that same troubled region?

The House vote sends another signal of disjointed and unjustifiable U.S. foreign policy, meant more for a victory lap by a lame duck president, than as a pillar of U.S. foreign relations in the 21st Century. The world will have to live with the outcome and many of us fear where that might lead. I pray with all my heart that I am wrong.

AS: One of the significant achievements in the India-US bilateral relations is growing merchandize trade which increased to $ 42 billion in 2007 and according to estimate made before the current financial melt-down bilateral trade is expected to touch $60-billion-mark in 2008. Till September, 2008 trade between the two countries stood at over $ 34 billion. The long term estimate projects it at $100 billion in next three-four years. But lot many things would depend on the final outcome of WTO negotiations. Indo-US trade is about one tenth of China-US trade. What according to you are the major hurdles to expand the Indo-US trade at a much faster speed? Would be expecting some more liberal trade policy from New Delhi ?

JM: I believe that we should seize opportunities to strengthen our trade and investment relationship. A bilateral investment treaty, for example, would be an important way to create incentives for investment in India, and these investments can boost trade flows. This treaty would basically provide a way in which investors know that they would be treated fairly in India (by creating an independent dispute settlement panel where investors and the government can settle investment disputes resulting from expropriation. The United States should ensure that our markets are open to Indian imports and we should find ways in which India can demonstrate its growing leadership obligation in the multilateral sphere, particularly the WTO.

AS: In next few months time India will also have a new government with general elections in early 2009. With a new President in the US and a new government in Delhi (without predicting who would win the race), do you think that both the government have to start a fresh dialogue on WTO issues? What is your assessment ?

JM: I think that the current dynamic in the WTO is perceived as though the developed countries have one agenda, and the developing countries have another. My hope and expectation is that the Obama administration and his trade representative can identify common negotiating objectives with India and build from there. It's in all of our interests to foster economic growth in developing countries, and Least Developed Countries in particular. The new USTR should start on that basis and then move outward. I truly believe that a Doha accord must result in further South-South trade and investment. India has an opportunity to be a constructive leader in these negotiations and the US has an obligation to facilitate this and demonstrate how it's done.

AS: WTO talks apart, what could be your suggestions to facilitate bilateral trade between these two countries in near term perspectives? At the United States India Business Council's annual meet this year Mrs Indra Nooyi, the current Chairman has spoken about huge potential of Indo-US trade volume and closely linked with that is the question of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that she dealt with. Indian market is gradually unfolding since its economic reforms in early 90s which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had initiated as the then Finance Minister. Do you find India's FDI policy still quite restrictive? What you would be expecting from the Indian government to step up FDI from the US ?

JM: See above on the bilateral investment treaty.

AS: A major issue that is going to significantly impact US-India trade relations is outsourcing. What is your personal stand on this sensitive issue and what you would be expecting from the Obama Administration ?

JM: Issues like this and others must be addressed in a comprehensive way, but we must first work to stabilize the economic crisis.

AS: Last but not least, what are the significant changes you would be expecting in the US-India relationships in next four years from now—in the first spell of Barack Obama as the US President ?

JM: The President-elect has spoken out many times about the need for a new and renewed U.S. presence and commitment to global relations and there is no doubt in my mind that the world will see the kind of U.S. leadership that is has been missing for too many years.

January 21, 2009