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Ties Strengthen Between United States and India

The United States and Indian officials say they have begun a new era of cooperation after wrapping up talks last week during which new promises of bilateral cooperation were made. The so-called "Strategic Dialogue" was presented by officials in both countries as the new way forward after a history of sometimes rocky relations.

"The recent dialogue that took place in Washington helped to remove some of the doubts and skepticism about (President) Obama's commitment toward strategic partnership with India," said India's former Ambassador to the United States, Lalit Mansingh, who is currently with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi.

The United States and India had differing approaches to the initial dialogue, which began during the final year of President Bill Clinton's second term, said Mansingh.

"The Americans always looked at the distant future. And, we were concerned with the immediate present. And so, the big issue at that time was the sanctions against India and the fact that Americans were not willing to discuss cooperation in the civil nuclear field, " he said.

In the past, India's focus was on the now, said Teresita Schaffer, Director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"Both India and the U.S., for somewhat different reasons, had difficulty looking too far into the future. We are both democracies. And, that means that our system tends to tether us to the short-term," said Schaffer. "But, there had, in the past, for India to focus mainly on bilateral issues, things we are doing just between India and the United States."

Security issues dominated the U.S. agenda in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.

And, Ambassador Mansingh said sanctions against India following a nuclear test in 1998 dominated talks while George W. Bush was in the White House. Under President Barack Obama, the dialogue has turned to a broader range of issues.

"This is a new kind of definition of strategic partnership," the ambassador said, which he adds, includes a more unified approach to common issues.

"We have come to accept each other's visions. India realizes this is a friendship that is going to help India in becoming a global power, in removing poverty and bringing technology and investments into India," Mansingh said. " The U.S. equally understands that the short term is important when you look at developments in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, explosive issues that need attention."

The United States and India have had 18 separate dialogues in progress ahead of the Strategic Dialogue meeting. While the meeting last week was not intended to supplant or combine the earlier discussions, Ambassador Mansingh said the Strategic Dialogue is a progression.

"I think it is a natural evolution. It is not a conscious attempt to replace one package with another. But (it is) continuity. And, this is what is remarkable about this relationship. It started with Bill Clinton in his last year in office. It continued under George W. Bush. And now, President Obama is taking it forward."

The Strategic Dialogue covered many issues, led by terrorism and nuclear topics. Also high on the agenda were countries in the South Asian region, notably Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But Mansingh said he was disappointed that the U.S. did not define a clear role for India in Afghanistan. "India regards Afghanistan as critical for its security. And, we were hoping that the discussions on Afghanistan would lead to India in having a larger role in the political settlement."

India was also looking for much-needed U.S. support to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, said the ambassador.

"The U.S. stopped short of endorsing India's candidacy for the U.N. Security Council. It is all right to be praised for the kind of work India has been doing. But, India has already received open endorsements from other E-5 members like Russia, Britain and France."

India will join the Security Council in a non-permanent role soon. It may be some time before a permanent position is considered, said analyst Terestia Schaffer.

"In order to get on the security council, you need the current security council to vote you in. That is not the only step, but it is the first one. But, everybody knows that should India's permanent membership become imminent, China would almost certainly bail out (not support India)."

The United States and India will have another opportunity this year for a high-profile display of cooperation when President Obama visits India in November.