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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Missing Word is Strategic

It's hard to know how much influence current US Secretary of State has on US president. Even if one ignores the election battle they went through, Sri Obama has an alternative point man for Afghan-Paki, and presumably for India, region for all security and terror related issues. And with all generals from Pacific command and heads of CIA making their presence in Delhi, Hillary Clinton presumably cares only about trade and people-to-people issues.

Bibek Debroy says one reason why Kamal Nath was not re-appointed commerce minister was because he gave US trade representative hell when negotiating the next round of WTO agreement - meaning, he was fighting for India's cause. Apparently the new commerce minister, Anand Sharma, already obliged his US counter part by making concessions. This implies Clinton apparently already influenced Indian PM decision making.

Hillary Clinton, it seems, has more influence in New Delhi than in Washington. So her speech at USIBC, the text of which I could not find on USIBC site, may not be a comprehensive take on relations between India and US.

However, putting the speech next to her take on the future path of US-China and US-Russian relationships makes us wonder where India falls in the scheme of things in Washington. References to 'Upgrade of Relationship' and 'Version 3.0' in her speech are fine but beyond commerce and trade, there is nothing substantive in her speech that indicates a new level of relationship. More than what was said, we find what was unsaid more interesting.

Ms. Clinton said while pursuing an "enhanced bilateral partnership" the two countries should recognise that their official ties "are past due for an upgrade" as compared to other metrics of cooperation. "We need bilateral cooperation between our governments to catch up with our people-to-people and economic ties".

If Bush administration's "strategic partnership" was version 2.0, we think "enhanced bilateral partnership" is a downgrade to the relationship that existed during the last the few years of Bush years. This may, quite possibly, be an indication of Clinton's influence in Obama's government. There will be more clarity when Obama himself has something significant to say about the relationship. For now, the trajectory of the relationship seems to be pointing downwards.