Readout of a Readout

One of the useful things about summit level meetings such as the Strategic Dialogue is that they provide occasion for a vast cornucopia of information on bilateral relations to come into the public domain, there are pre and post summit briefings, factsheets on various aspects of the Dialogue, press conferences, and the all-important Joint Statement. But, as has been the case increasingly in recent years, there is much less coming out of the Indian side, either because they are so short-staffed or because the various departments are unable to give intelligible inputs, or for some other reason. There was a pre summit briefing to the press (with no questions taken, apparently), but nothing after the summit. In contrast, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs gave a speech on India U.S. relations at a think tank after the summit, and also made himself available to the Press after his return to Washington. At a time when glasnost has spread to foreign policy establishments around the world, the reticence from South Block is unfortunate and ends up with only one side of the story being told.

So, what did Blake have to say about the summit? To paraphrase the more interesting parts of his press conference, much of it in response to questions, Secretary Clinton was as taken in by the voluminous factsheets produced by her Department as everyone else and pointed to them as proof that the Relationship had achieved an irreversible momentum. At the same time, even if the stalemate over nuclear liability was not yet an irritant, it had the potential to become the Damocles Sword of the relationship.

The decision to resume technical discussions on a bilateral investment treaty was highlighted as one of the key deliverables of the visit even though as a journalist present pointed out, a model treaty had been worked out by the U.S. side some time back, and even an interagency review undertaken after which it had been put back in the deep freeze.

On the long-pending Totalization Agreement, as Blake made clear in his remarks, this did not even come up for discussion. According to Blake, this can realistically be taken up only when there were as many Americans working in India as Indians in America. Blake also chided the Indian government for repeatedly raising the issue of H1B visas, noting that Indians had received over 65% of the H1Bs issued last year and that if anything, the Indian government should be “praising” the program.  On the Tri-Valley University issue, Blakes said that it had nothing to do with the American government, implying that the students were at fault for not doing their due diligence before applying in these universities.

Blake was also at pains to point out that the Dialogue was not about deliverables, but more about assessing progress of the many joint Initiatives   entered into and proposing new areas of partnership. This was a bit rich, considering, that at the last Dialogue, the Secretary of State was hell-bent on achieving at least one deliverable and the Indian side was virtually brow-beaten into signing the Technology Support Agreement and the End User Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) after demurring from signing other agreements such as the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA), the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) and Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA).

On Afghanistan, he clarified that Washington was supportive of India’s plans to pour more money into Afghanistan and invest in its infrastructure and private sector development while India was supportive of Washington’s vision for Afghanistan as a gateway into Central Asia and the integration of the South and Central Asian economic blocs.

Reading between the lines of Gates debrief, one get the sense that there is increasing exasperation that the strategic relationship is not moving forward according to the American script. In fact, it is cooperation in areas such as science and technology, education, and renewable energy  that has picked up momentum but remains confined to the factsheets since the U.S. focus is on the strategic and economic aspects of the relationship.  A debrief on the Indian side would give officials a chance to put forward their perspective of the relationship, and quell the disquiet over a presumed downtick in relations.

Tailpiece: The only indication that the Consular Dialogue announced for July 25 did indeed take place was the official photograph from the State Department. Other than that, nary a word from either side about what was discussed. Perplexing, especially when another fake University has been discovered on American shores.

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