India, US make the right noises but fissures show
Jul 31 2014 , New Delhi
Delhi blunt on US snooping, immigration bill
On his first visit since India's April-May elections, secretary of state John Kerry said he was 'excited' about the new prime minister Narendra Modi and believed his 'historic mandate' offered a chance for new US-India cooperation.
"The moment has never been more ripe to deliver on the incredible possibilities of the relationship between our nations," Kerry told reporters after talks with key ministers.
"The United States and India can and should be indispensable partners
for the 21st century,"
Kerry, who meets Modi on Friday, said he believed the new premier saw eye-to-eye on fighting climate change, boosting trade and expanding cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region — where the world's two largest democracies are both wary of China's rise.
India's foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said the Modi government saw "great potential for the United States as a global partner" and would welcome a "much more robust American presence" in the long-closed Indian economy. This is a priority of the Indian prime minister and “we would like to have constructive chapter on the issue".
During the marathon Indo-US strategic dialogue, the first high-level contact with Washington after Modi came to power in May, Swaraj also raised the issue of the US immigration bill pending before the senate, which will affect mobility of Indian IT professionals to US.
Swaraj said she has conveyed to Kerry that, if passed, it will send a "negative signal" to professionals here when India is opening up.
She added that her ministerial colleague Nirmala Sitharaman too has raised the issue.
Kerry was however non-committal on whether US consider diluting the provisions with regard to IT professional in the senate bill 744, which is seen as a protectionist measure.
Swaraj said India is not against the bill as immigration is an internal matter of a country. “But we are certainly concerned with the provisions with regard IT industry” that too at a time when India was opening up.
Kerry said, “We did talk about the immigration bill, which is critical priority of Obama administration in United States. We are aware of the need to ensure more prople are able to travel and be part of the commerce.” But not much forward movement is expected on the bill until Senate elections take place, which is three months away.
Asserting that the US and India can and should be indispensable partners of 21st century, Kerry said, "Of course delivering…is the key. The words are easy. It's the actions we need to take. They will really define the relationship in the days ahead."
The two leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to the full implementation of the IndiaUS civil nuclear agreement and welcomed the authorisation to proceed provided to Westinghouse to implement the pre-early works agreement with NPCIL as of September 2013.
On the snooping issue, Swaraj bluntly told Kerry that surveillance of political leaders and others in India by the American intelligence was "unacceptable" to which the US responded by saying that any differences that may exist can be resolved by intelligence communities of the two countries.
During the marathon talks between Kerry and Swaraj during the Indo-US strategic dialogue, the two sides had discussions on a wide range of key issues, including trade and defence.
Swaraj was asked if she had raised the issue of surveillance of BJP leaders in 2010 by the US national security agency (NSA), as was made public recently on the basis of revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
"I raised this issue with secretary Kerry. I told them that when this news appeared in Indian papers, Indians were agitated and they had expressed their anger too. I even told him (Kerry) that both countries consider each other as friendly nations and it will not be acceptable to us from any angle if one friendly country spies on another friendly country. This is unacceptable to us."
However, Kerry defended the US snooping saying, "We value our relationship with India, our bilateral relationship...We also value sharing of information between each other regarding counter-terrorism and other threats to both of our countries.. Usually, we try to have our intelligence communities work to resolve any questions or differences that may exist.
"We will continue to work actively with India wherever we see a threat to our shared interest and we fully respect and understand the feelings expressed by the minister," Kerry added.
Kerry also maintained that US has a policy that it does not discuss intelligence matters in public. However, he added that America had conversations as the minister has stated with government officials about surveillance reports.
India and the US also asked Pakistan to work towards bringing the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks to justice even as they vowed to eliminate terrorist safe havens and disrupt terror networks including that of al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
In a joint statement after marathon talks between Kerry and Sushma Swaraj, the leaders reiterated their condemnation of terrorism in all its forms.
On trade-related issues, Kerry said there was a lot of work yet to be done in breaking down trade barriers and to limit obstacles including tariffs, price controls, preferential treatment to certain products in large influential markets.
"We can build a more competitive market as well as build the bridges of opportunities that our young people in both the countries want so much. With 10 million Indians entering the work force each year, the Indian government clearly understands this imperatives," Kerry said.
Kerry and Swaraj also discussed initiatives in various key areas as part of the agenda for the upcoming meeting between prime minister Narendra Modi and US president Barack Obama in September in Washington.