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CTBT could be thorn in US-India ties
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

A day after Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the USA and its first black leader, there is anticipation of a seismic foreign policy shift and nations around the globe are wondering what an Obama presidency means for them. The US-India relations, jump-started by the historic March 2000 visit to India by President Bill Clinton and then carried to dizzying heights under President George W. Bush, are unlikely to slow down.

While Obama has not met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the two have exchanged warm correspondence in which the Democrat said “deepening and broadening the friendship between our two countries will be a first-order priority for me,” while Manmohan Singh, in a congratulatory note this week, wrote, “Your extraordinary journey to the White House will inspire people not only in your country but also around the world.”

A likely bone of contention in the US-India ties could be Obama’s determination to have the US Senate ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a pact opposed by New Delhi, and then have other countries sign on to it as well.

Walter Andersen, associate director of the South Asia studies programme at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, told The Tribune that while the Bush administration did not push a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, an Obama administration would likely push both. He said both issues would require some delicate diplomacy.

In a September 23 letter to the Prime Minister, Obama wrote that nonproliferation issues “will be one of my highest priorities as President... I will work with the US Senate to secure the ratification of the international treaty banning nuclear weapons testing at the earliest practical day, and then launch a major diplomatic initiative to ensure its entry into force.” He also sought to “pursue negotiations on a verifiable, multilateral treaty to end the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.”

However, Sumit Ganguly of Indiana University said he did not think that the CTBT would be one of the principal items on Obama’s immediate agenda. “He will need to build a consensus in the Congress, work with the Pentagon and the weapons labs and then tackle it. There are many other pressing concerns that he will need to address first,” Ganguly told the Tribune. He predicted a continuation of many of the Bush administration’s policies toward India, but probably with greater Congressional scrutiny.

The question of outsourcing jobs could become another irritant in the relationship. “There is also the question of outsourcing, where some of his key constituencies have real concerns,” Andersen pointed out. India, a beneficiary of outsourced American jobs, could suffer if Obama’s policies turn protectionist in a bid to keep jobs in America.

Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution said he hoped the US and India could “work together on a strategy to stabilise Afghanistan, without alienating Pakistan”. But, he added, “I see India as receding from engagement, or perhaps only very slowly engaging others in the region, and even more concerned about its domestic politics than before.”

By all accounts the economy will be Obama’s No. 1 priority.



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