Obama’s Sojourn – Symbolism or Substance?

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[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#59d600″]T[/mks_dropcap]he media space has been abuzz with speculations and expectations regarding the upcoming visit of the US President Mr. Barack Obama. High hopes are riding on the new found bonhomie of the the pluralistic democracies. But the build up of such high hopes often overshadows the pragmatic views on  international diplomacy. Our relations with the US goes back to 1949 when Mr. Nehru made a visit to the US, which was followed by the high-profile visit of the US President Eisenhower in 1959. But both these visits failed to yield any landmark results. The Cold War ensured the Pakistan would continue to get the US assistance and funds in spite of our vehement opposition.

Taking a closer look at the prevailing ground realities, one should view the summit with cautious optimism with get over ambitious for results. Both the countries wish to engage themselves on the issues related to bilateral trade, climate change, defense and civil nuclear sector. But the road ahead is not smooth. There are numerous stumbling blocks which might preclude any significant outcome, if not outrightly stymie the summit itself. TRIPS, BIT and civil liability for Nuclear Damage Bill are such issues which would require strong deliberations.

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill remains the core issue of discussion. The US companies( which aim for a large pie in nuclear energy sector) are wary of the clause in the Bill ,which makes the supplier directly liable for any nuclear mishap. The clause 46 of the Act relates to open-ended liability which puts unlimited liability on the supplier for any nuclear mishap. The US has been pushing for implementation of 123 Agreement which  has been under freeze owing to the aforesaid Bill. It is still to be seen whether the issue will be resolved through the mechanism of insurance consortium.

TRIPS and BIT are the other issues on which the two countries are yet to reach a consensus. Even though the differences over IPR is being resolved through  a working  group on Intellectual Property, no headways seems to have been made yet. The strong lobbying by the US pharma companies has  constantly been goading New Delhi to amend its IP laws. The US Trade Representative’s Annual Special 301 Report continues to keep India on “ priority watch list” for its lax IPR laws. India wants to resolve these differences over IPR through bilateral talks rather than being subjected to any unilateral action. The US has also expressed in no unclear terms its unequivocal opposition to India on exclusion of IPR and taxation from the ambit of India-US BIT.

In the wake of climate change agreement between the US and China, the US expects India to take affirmative actions on climate change. This in spite of the fact the recently concluded COP 20 at Lima had only asked government all over to present their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) in Paris this year. The Lima accord to which India is a signatory had not asked for any details of how it plans to cut emissions. New Delhi has thereby rightly maintained its commitment to rights of poor countries and also the longstanding principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. India seeks more and funds and technological assistance form the developed nations for mitigation of climate change.

The contentious issues not withstanding, India remains a key ally in Obama’s Asia Pivot. A sustained and healthy relation between the two nations are not only symbiotic but also critical to peace and stability in the strife stricken West and Central Asia. Both the nations need to create long term cooperative strategies that accommodates each other’s interests. A synchronized policy on Asia is the way forward. US needs to build confidence by assuaging  India’s concerns on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The geopolitical, geo-economic and realpolitik scenario presents before the two nations, a great opportunity to take the relations to greater heights, this must not to lost to domestic politics or compulsions.

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