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Remarks by the Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao at the Inaugural Session of the Seminar on India and the United States: A Strategic Partnership

Ambassador Indyk,
Mr. Mittal,
Under Secretary Burns,
Ladies and Gentleman,

It is indeed a great honor and privilege for me to be at the first Annual dialogue on “India-US Strategic Partnership” jointly hosted by Brookings Institution and FICCI. I am also pleased to see several friends and colleagues who have contributed immensely through the years to the development of the India-US relationship. It is particularly appropriate that Brookings is the host institute for this annual dialogue, for, more than a decade ago it was the dialogue between our then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbot, President of Brookings that marked an important milestone in our quest for deeper mutual understanding on strategic issues.

That decade has truly been a transformational one for the India-US relationship. Many more milestones have been crossed. Almost a year ago, in Delhi, during the visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to India and after her discussions with our External Affairs Minister Shri SM Krishna, our two governments announced their decision to establish a strategic dialogue. In November last year, our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh came to Washington on a state visit at the invitation of President Obama. It was a very successful visit that yielded rich dividends in terms of cooperation between India and the United States in many areas, as well as underscoring the vitality and relevance of our strategic partnership. And, the recently released National Security Strategy of the United States has stressed the importance attached to comprehensive U.S engagement with India which it sees as a centre of influence in the 21st century.

Yesterday, we held the first round of our Strategic Dialogue co-chaired by our External Affairs Minister, Shri SM Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And, the visit of President Obama to India in November this year will take this endeavour onward to greater heights. President Obama’s gracious presence at the US-India Strategic Dialogue reception at the State Department yesterday was an abiding affirmation of of what he eloquently called the “unprecedented partnership” between our two countries.

The transformation of our relationship has taken place against the backdrop of India’s initiatives to reform its economy and the geo-political changes in the post-Cold War world. To my mind, there are three main drivers that have led to this transformation.

First our shared values of democracy, pluralism and tolerance, and respect for fundamental freedoms provide the underpinning of a durable relationship.

Second there is the reality of growing economic linkages and people-to-people contacts. Over the last two decades, our businesses have formed strong and mutually beneficial partnerships. Our bilateral trade has shown a continually upward trend, with the trade in goods growing three times in the last decade. Our services trade has also grown and is broadly balanced. We have also recently launched a new Financial and Economic Partnership and have agreed on a new framework for promotion of trade and investment. These are all catalysts for closer ties.

And third, there is an increasing convergence of interests on major global issues. The imperatives of a multi-polar and inter-connected world today set the stage for us to work together to address global challenges whether it be the rising threat of terrorism and extremism, or ensuring balanced, equitable and sustainable development, energy security and food security for both our peoples and for the world at large.

While the rapidity in the evolution of our bilateral relations with the United States has surprised some observers, there is today broad-based political support and public goodwill in India for a strategic relationship with the US. We see the US as a friend, and as a valuable partner in our developmental efforts. Thus even as we strengthen our ties in defence, security, counter-terrorism, the trade and economic spheres, areas of cooperation in agriculture, energy, environment, innovation and education are also coming to define the structure of our strategic partnership. The Joint Statement that we issued yesterday at the conclusion of the Strategic Dialogue reflects this growing partnership which not only encompasses our bilateral cooperation but also charts a path for us to work together on regional and global issues.

While there are no major irritants in our relationship, we need to ensure that our partnership does not become hostage to regional dynamics and that we realize its full potential. Some months ago, at an address at the
Woodrow Wilson Centre I had noted that the future of our relationship will depend not only on the momentum of our strategic dialogue and its outcome, but, eventually on how our respective peoples perceive our cooperation as safeguarding their aspirations and sensitivities. We need to be mindful of this aspect.

There is no doubt that India’s democratic, pluralistic and stable society encompassing over a billion people makes it unique and in many senses, exceptional . And, with a sister democracy, the United States, we share a strategic interest in fostering security and stability in a rapidly changing Asia. Even as the face of Asia, and indeed, the world, changes with the rise of China, and of India, we – India and the United States - must work together to engender an open, balanced, equitable and inclusive architecture of economic and security cooperation. In a related context, the question of reform of the UN Security Council and the expansion of its membership, is an important item on the agenda of our dialogue as we seek US support for India’s case for permanent membership of the Security Council.

In our neighbourhood, we have a vision of enhanced South Asian cooperation for development. That vision is however challenged by violent extremism and terrorism which originates in our region and finds sustenance and sanctuary there. The recent failed terrorist attempt at Times Square has again revealed the global reach of terrorist organizations. Whether it be LeT, JeM, Al-Qaida or the Taliban, all these groups are driven by a similar ideology – an ideology that is opposed to freedom, democracy, development and the peaceful resolution of differences.

Our two countries have a vital interest in defeating terrorism and in ensuring that its safe havens and breeding grounds cease to exist. In this context, our bilateral cooperation in counter-terrorism is crucial. Our concerns in this area are shared, and our cooperation in information sharing and improving our infrastructure to resist and deal with terrorism is of great relevance.

We are supportive of the US efforts to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and bring stability there. Indian assistance of USD 1.3 billion has helped build vital civil infrastructure, develop human resources and capacity in the areas of education, health, agriculture, rural development, etc in Afghanistan. In this process, we have been guided by the needs of the Afghan people. The Indian medical Mission in Afghanistan treated over 300,000 people in 2009 alone. We stand by our development partnership with Afghanistan despite repeated terrorist attacks on the Indian Mission and our brave men and women who are working there to help transform the lives of ordinary Afghan citizens. Like the United States, India would like to see the emergence of a strong, stable and prosperous Afghanistan. We also believe therefore that any reconciliation or reintegration effort there should include only those who abjure violence, renounce terrorism and pledge to abide by the values of democracy and pluralism and the Afghan Constitution.

In the larger Asian context, both the US and India have an interest in protecting the global commons - maritime, cyber and space domains. Free flow of information and trade across these global commons is vital for both our economies. Our naval forces have been working with each other in ensuring the safety and security of shipping lanes of communication including in the Gulf of Aden. We need to also create appropriate norms for cyberspace to ensure that the freedom and anonymity provided by these pathways are not misused. Our space agencies have had fruitful cooperation in the past and there is immense potential for the future.

Defence cooperation has become an important strand of our strategic partnership in the past few years. Today, our armed forces have regular interaction and conduct joint exercises. In fact, Indian armed forces conduct more joint exercises with the US armed forces than with any other country. We are increasingly also looking to partner with the US as we modernize our armed forces with latest technology and equipment. An important element in this regard would be progress on easing of US export control restrictions as they apply to India. This would not only be a logical outcome of the civil nuclear initiative but would also be a catalyst for promoting trade and cooperation in high technology, defence and space sectors. It would also be consonant with the nature of the strategic partnership that exists between us and the growing mutual trust and confidence that is an important driver in our relations today.

Economics and Trade constitute an important plank of our bilateral relations. For us, the US remains a prime source of investment and an important trading partner. As we make efforts to increase investment in infrastructure and give a fresh impetus to the manufacturing sector, the importance of partnership with the US is only going to increase. This mutually beneficial partnership has created jobs and opportunities in both countries. There has also been a surge in Indian investments in the US. On the global stage, also, as members of the G-20 we have worked closely together on formulating policy responses to deal with the global financial and economic crisis.

Issues such as agriculture, energy, education, and health have a direct impact on the lives of common people. Development has become an important focus of our strategic partnership.

Agriculture remains an important sector of our economy. While we have become self-sufficient in food production, rapid growth in agriculture is essential for increasing incomes of our farmers and achieving the objective of inclusive growth. In the 1960s, India and the US had partnered to usher in the green revolution in India. The spirit that animated our cooperation that resulted in the Green Revolution must be revived. It is our hope that we can work together to bring a second green revolution in India.

Separately, India has also developed capabilities and expertise in the field of agriculture especially suited for a low capital intensive environment. There is immense scope for us to share our respective experiences and work together to address food security issues in other parts of the developing world especially in Africa. We have agreed to establish working groups in diverse areas related to agriculture which should help us increase productivity and also contribute towards regional and global food security.

Both our countries also face similar challenges of dependence on energy imports and fossil fuels and we both recognize the importance of addressing the challenge of climate change. In India, we have a long-term perspective plan on energy and an ambitious National Action Plan on climate change, which seeks to increase the share of clean and renewable energy in our energy mix, increase energy efficiency across the economy and expand our forest cover. In November 2009 Prime Minister and President Obama agreed to launch a Clean Energy and Climate Change Initiative to advance cooperation in clean and renewable energy, and energy efficiency. We are working together to ensure a speedy implementation of its various provisions including of establishing a Joint Research Center.

The conclusion of the historic civil nuclear initiative with the US in 2008 opened new vistas of cooperation between our two countries. We have finalized the arrangements and procedures related to reprocessing and it is our hope that we can move soon towards practical cooperation in the field of nuclear power.

Education has an important role in empowering and transforming the lives of our people. The Government of India has, therefore, launched an ambitious programme for reform and expansion of the education sector. It is our hope to partner and benefit from the excellent US university system. The Singh-Obama Knowledge Initiative announced during Prime Minister’s visit would be one important instrument for this purpose. Meanwhile, there are at least 100,000 students from India who study in US universities today.

There is thus today a very broad canvas before us to strengthen our strategic partnership. This is a relationship, which can be, as President Obama said, one of the defining relationships of the 21st century. There are no major issues on which our long term interests do not converge. We may occasionally differ on the manner in which these shared objectives can be achieved. We need to weave all these various strands that I mentioned and intensify the momentum of consolidating our cooperation. In this endeavour, we will certainly benefit from the valuable inputs from the FICCI- Brookings dialogue. I wish you success and look forward to the results of your deliberations.