What they discussed

Print edition : October 04, 1997

THE Clinton-Gujral "bilateral", held over forty minutes in the Presidential suite at the Waldorf Astoria in New York on September 22, 1997, was, according to a senior State Department official, "very cordial and thoughtful" and also "well-attended".

Present on the U.S. side were Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, National Security Adviser Samuel Berger, Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, and Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs Karl Inderfurth. On the Indian side were Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister N.N. Vohra, Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath, and Indian Ambassador to the United States Naresh Chandra. The President and the Prime Minister did the talking for their countries, except when the latter asked Chidambaram to make a brief presentation on India's performance and prospects as a "global economic player".

What the two sides discussed can be pieced together from fairly detailed official briefings from the two sides. Clinton expressed appreciation for the fact that Gujral had adjusted his schedule so that this New York meeting could take place. He was grateful for the "fine hospitality" extended to his wife, Hillary, and their daughter, Chelsea, when they came to India in 1995. Hillary Clinton, who met Gujral and his wife, Shiela, in Calcutta recently when they came to attend the funeral of Mother Teresa, appears to have transmitted some kind of enthusiasm for India to her husband.

Clinton noted that there was "a great feeling" in the United States for India, which was celebrating the golden jubilee of its Independence. He himself had a keen personal interest in "discovering India", remarking that too many opportunities had gone by and there was a need to "deepen relations" between the two "great democracies". Clinton spoke admiringly of the contributions made by Indian Americans and non-resident Indians to his country. Gujral observed that this was exactly the right time to do what the President wished to do in the bilateral sphere. Both sides looked forward to Clinton's visit to India - which will be only the third by a U.S. President to India - in January-February 1998.

The discussion ranged across the political and economic fields, taking in international as well as bilateral subjects. Investment, trade and other economic opportunities figured prominently in the talks as did the political developments in South Asia, not excluding the problematical Indo-Pakistan relationship. But the thrust was towards developing and deepening bilateral ties. The President and the Prime Minister expressed satisfaction over the fact that the United States was India's largest foreign investor as well as largest trading partner, but the sense of the discussion was that the "potential of the relationship" was yet to be realised.

Finance Minister Chidambaram, in his presentation, pointed to India's 7 per cent a year growth rate, which he hoped would soon climb to a "tigerish" 8 per cent. Foreign direct investment, which could touch $ 5 billion for this fiscal year, and the total capital inflow were burgeoning, turning India into a leading investment destination in the world. Chidambaram sketched the recent steps taken to attract foreign private investment and presented a somewhat rosy picture of the infrastructural situation, particularly with respect to private power generation, private ports and a new roads policy. He also indicated that India would meet its "obligations" to the World Trade Organisation: it would phase out quantitative restrictions over a period, honour its intellectual property right commitments, open up its financial sector, and set up an independent regulatory authority for insurance. Chidambaram ended by seeking massive U.S. investment, particularly in the power and petroleum fields.

When Gujral mentioned that India wanted to build its own "Silicon Valley", Clinton remarked appreciatively that people from India had contributed greatly to building Silicon Valley itself.

Asked by President Clinton, the Prime Minister elaborated on the "Gujral doctrine" and the "trends of cooperation" in South Asia of which the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was an exemplification. In his view, economic development as a means to establish peace in the region had to take precedence. He spoke enthusiastically about the South Asia Free Trade Area, which was going to be formed ahead of schedule, and hoped that Pakistan would be a full participant. Speaking of successes achieved by India in solving problems with Bangladesh and Nepal, he emphasised that "this is the way it is going, and this is the way is has to go."

As for the ongoing dialogue with Pakistan aimed at turning a problematical relationship around, the Prime Minister's assessment was: "We are trying to solve our problems. It will take time." In turn, Clinton placed on record his appreciation of the "Gujral doctrine" for South Asia.

Again asked by the President, the Prime Minister spoke about Indian policies relating to security and disarmament. He explained the country's policy in support of global disarmament and relating to discriminatory 'non-proliferation', including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and so forth. He pointed out that India had been "a very mature, balanced and responsible country" which fully observed the spirit of international treaties it was party to (such as the Chemical Weapons Convention). However, it could not possibly subject its national interests and principles to any unequal global nuclear bargain. The Prime Minister concluded the discussion of these issues by saying in effect, "We will be pleased to engage you in a discussion on all these matters."

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