Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led a huge interagency team in New Delhi on Tuesday that has a strong focus on opening up Indian markets to U.S. companies, especially those in the defense and energy businesses.
"With regard to trade and investment, the ties between our countries are strong and growing stronger. The United States is proud to be one of India's largest trading partners and direct investors, and we welcome India's investment in the United States, which is rapidly on the rise," Clinton said at the start of the 2nd U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue. "This is a good news story -- but we would be remiss if we didn't strive to make it even better."
A State Department official told The Cable that the United States is aiming to reach $100 billion in two-way trade with India within a couple of years. "Our whole focus on this trip was to set some ambitious goals," the official said.
"Priorities include, number one, trying to deepen our economic cooperation, which has been growing substantially year on year, and she'll point out a few ways we think we can take it to the next level," one official told reporters on Clinton's plane.
Clinton was accompanied by a host of high-level U.S. government officials, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the President's Advisor for Science and Technology John P. Holdren, Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute, Federal Aviation Administration Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt, Export-Import Bank Chair Fred P. Hochberg, Overseas Private Investment Corporation Chair Elizabeth L. Littlefield, U.S. Trade and Development Agency Director Lee Zak, White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and Acting National Security Staff Senior Director for South Asia Michael Newbill.
From the State Department specifically, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer.
The meetings were not limited to trade, and covered almost every aspect of the bilateral relationship, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, East Asian strategy, counterterrorism, cyber security, science and technology, education, civil aviation, and climate change.
But economic issues and trade is certainly the primary focus of Clinton's time in India. Tomorrow, she will travel to the Indian city of Chennai, a huge manufacturing and information technology hub. Meanwhile, the administration's economics team will go on to Mumbai, India's financial center.
The Obama administration has been working hard to drum up defense and civilian nuclear business for U.S. companies in India. The United States lost out when India passed over U.S. companies for a $12 billion contract for new fighter jets. Clinton, however, praised a smaller subsequent deal to purchase $4 billion worth of U.S. transport planes.
"The Indian Air Force went in a different direction with the fighters, but we don't see that as the end of the world," the State Department official said. "We see billions of dollars of other defense deals coming down the pipeline."
Clinton also promised to stand by the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement signed during George W. Bush's administration, despite a change in rules by the Nuclear Supplier Group that restricts the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) equipment. She urged India to sign the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) this year.
"Our strong view is that the NSG decision regarding ENR technologies changes nothing about the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal," the official said.
U.S. defense and nuclear trade with India always riles Pakistan, but the administration is determined to show both sides that the United States will not pick one over the other.
"The era of zero sum calculations with respect to U.S. relations with India and Pakistan should be over," said Karl Inderfurth, senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It will be necessary to make it clear to both parties that the U.S. will not exercise a Sophie's Choice in these relations."
The meeting comes only one week after a terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed 19 people, and one week before Pakistani and Indian leaders are set to resume talks that broke off following the devastating 2008 Mumbai terror attack.
Tuesday's meetings were also Clinton's first opportunity to explain President Barack Obama's strategy for drawing down U.S. troops in Afghanistan to the Indian leadership. India fears that Pakistan may exploit a power vacuum in Afghanistan, where it has both economic and security interests..
The U.S. government, however, is internally divided between those who want to see more Indian activity in Afghanistan and those who are concerned that increased Indian involvement there endangers U.S.-Pakistan cooperation.
"Half of the U.S. government wants India to play a useful role in Afghanistan," said Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Stephen Cohen. "It's ludicrous because India is a crucial player in Afghanistan... We don't have an integrated policy."