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SOURCE:  The Tribune

Every newly-elected US President seeks to put his personal stamp on the conduct of foreign policy. The worst phase in Indo-US relations was with President Bill Clinton, who sought to compel India to end its nuclear weapon programme. Clinton also went out of his way to build bridges with China, even as he sought to interfere in India’s internal affairs, on the issue of J&K. Clinton’s successor, George Bush (Junior), was the friendliest US President India has dealt with.

President Bush helped in ending global nuclear sanctions on India. President Obama followed the path set by President Bush. He looked at ties with India in a larger ‘Indo-Pacific’ security perspective. President Trump was supportive of India on security-related issues, though he also placed import duties on key agricultural products from India.

India will have to assure the United States on restoring democracy in J&K and also the laws of citizenship.

The election of Joe Biden, as the next President, has been welcomed by people and governments across the world. There are naturally queries on how Biden and leading members of his team view India. Biden himself visited India as Vice-President during the tenure of President Obama. But Biden’s most notable role in relations with India was a letter he wrote to President Bush, when he was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, supporting moves to end nuclear sanctions against India. He visited India as Vice-President in July 2013, and led the successful campaign to persuade India to cooperate with the US in mobilising global support for an agreement on climate change. India duly provided that support in the 2005 Climate Change Summit in Paris. The US has been impressed by the seriousness with which PM Modi dealt with environmental issues during the summit.

There will be three senior figures in the Biden administration holding key positions on issues of foreign and security policies. Foreign Minister S Jaishankar will have to deal with the incoming Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, a long-time aide of Biden in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Deputy Secretary of State of President Obama. Speaking in Washington in July about future relations with India, Blinken noted: ‘Strengthening and deepening the relationship with India is going to be a very high priority. It is important to the future of the Indo-Pacific, and the kind of order that we all want; it is fair, stable, and hopefully, increasingly democratic. It is vital to being able to tackle some of these big global challenges.’ Blinken has also advocated the growth of ‘defence industrial cooperation’ with India, which could transform defence production in India.

Biden’s team dealing with national security policies is made up of professional officials who have held high positions. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s 43-year-old National Security Adviser, has earlier held key posts, both with Biden, when he was Vice-President, and with Hillary Clinton, when she was Secretary of State. Another interesting appointment is that of the first African-American, Gen Lloyd Austin, as Defence Secretary. He was earlier head of the US Central Command, which directs US military operations in Afghanistan. He would, therefore, be well briefed on the ISI role of backing the Taliban in Afghanistan and hosting Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad. India would be well advised to see that he is made aware of the role of China in building Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Referring to the situation in J&K and the CAA, Blinken spoke of ‘some of the actions’ India has taken ‘in cracking down’ on ‘freedom of movement’ and on ‘freedom of speech in Kashmir’. He also spoke on laws of citizenship in India. He, however, confirmed that these are always dealt with better, when the US speaks directly about ‘areas where you have differences, even as you are working to build greater cooperation, and strengthen the relationship going forward’. It should be made clear to the Biden administration that India has a transparent policy on J&K. It is determined to restore an elected democratic government there. Much will depend on the extent to which Pakistan promotes cross-border terrorism to undermine democratic institutions and disrupt elections. It should also be made clear that we expect that the US would use its leverage to ensure that Pakistan ends support for terrorism in both India and Afghanistan.

There will also be significant changes in US relations with China and Russia. Harsh rhetoric against China will be eschewed, with the US continuing to maintain a military presence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Russia will, however, not receive the same consideration that it received during the Trump administration. The Biden administration would also like to end sanctions against Iran, imposed by the Trump government. This should be welcomed, as Iran can play a positive role in countering Taliban-sponsored extremism in Afghanistan. A normalised relationship between the US and Iran would enhance stability and peace in Afghanistan, and in the Gulf region.

We would expect that the Biden administration would not do or say anything that encourages Pakistan to continue promoting cross-border terrorism. There would also, hopefully, be a clear enunciation on China’s territorial ambitions, and Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism. The Quad is now a vital organisation for promoting regional security across the Indo-Pacific region. There are reports that British PM Boris Johnson is inviting Quad members to the 2021 summit of the G-7 industrial powers, comprising the UK, US, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada, which he is hosting.