India, US Look for the Next Big Thing for Obama Visit

By Arun Kumar

Washington, Sep 19 (IANS) A search is on for the next big thing in India-US relations after their landmark civil nuclear deal to let President Barack Obama truly make "history" on his India visit in early November.

From the Indian perspective, that could well be Washington's full throated endorsement for India's permanent membership of the UN Security Council in acknowledgement of India's emergence as a "global power". Also high on India's wish list would be removal of export curbs on dual-use, high-tech items in consonance with Obama's avowed goal of making the India-US "strategic partnership" as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century."

India would also like the US to address new irritants like the "discriminatory" hike in H1-B L1 visa fees for highly skilled professionals and temporary workers, but would not want it to become a "huge overhang", as one senior Indian official put it, over the Obama visit that it looks at as a "very significant milestone" in the growing relationship.

This emerged from what officials said after two days of hectic diplomacy by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao with a flurry of meetings here with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, White House National Security Advisor Gen James Jones and other senior officials at the defence and commerce departments.

From the US perspective, Washington is keen that "natural partner," India ink three "foundational" military agreements for purchasing more American-origin defence equipment, "realistic" joint exercises and stepped up visits by Indian armed forces officers.

This officials suggest that would allow the US to "share" the next higher level of technology with India to fulfil its strategic aim of ensuring inter-operability of weapon systems in future and investing in a long term relationship.

The US would like the joint exercises to be "reflective of the real world situation" to prepare both sides to jointly undertake counter-piracy operations, maritime security, freedom of navigation and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The US side is also none too happy over India's nuclear liability legislation that they say would impede American firms from taking a fair share of India's $150 billion potential nuclear power market. Washington would also like India to address what it calls "longstanding impediments" like investment caps, agricultural market access barriers and high tariffs, intellectual property rights and the need for continuing regulatory streamlining and transparency.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk has raised these issues with Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma before and is expected to do so again when they meet here Tuesday for the India-US trade policy forum. The US is also keen on a bilateral investment treaty "to enhance opportunities for bilateral trade and investment and, ultimately, to create jobs in the United States and India."

Sharma in turn is expected to raise Ohio state's outsourcing ban and visa fee hike issues that he has termed "regressive" moves that would prove counterproductive and might affect the recovery of the global economy.

For the record, as Indian and US officials race against the clock to think up big ideas for Obama's upcoming visit, scheduled for Nov 7-9, according to sources, they speak of expanded cooperation "in a number of areas, including agriculture, education, economic cooperation, and security."

As an official US statement on the Rao-Jones meeting here Friday said they "both agreed that the vast range of cooperation between us would set the foundation for a successful presidential visit and further our strategic partnership."

But Obama is indeed keen to go for something significantly big that would have his own stamp beyond the continuation of the admittedly transformative nuclear deal conceived by his predecessor George W Bush, informed and diplomatic sources told IANS.

What that big thing would be, few are willing to tell or hazard a guess for now.


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