Secretary Kerry: Deepening India-US Ties is a “Strategic Imperative”

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July 30, 2014

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC – Describing India and the US as indispensable partners for the 21st century, Washington’s top diplomat has underscored the importance of deepening bilateral ties.

July 30, 2014

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC – Describing India and the US as indispensable partners for the 21st century, Washington’s top diplomat has underscored the importance of deepening bilateral ties.

Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the Center for American Progress, on Monday, at an event to launch its ‘India: 2020' program.  Photo credit: State Department

Addressing a packed gathering at the Center for American Progress (CAP), a prominent think-tank, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that deepening “our ties with India” is “our strategic imperative.  It doesn’t matter just to us or to India, it actually matters to the world”, he said.  “The United States and India can and should be indispensable partners for the 21st century and that is, I assure you, the way we approach the Modi government and the way we view this particular time”.

Kerry made these remarks at the launch of CAP’s ‘India: 2020' program, ahead of his first visit to Delhi under the new Indian government for the fifth India-US Strategic Dialogue which he will co-chair with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday, July 31.  He is leading a high-powered delegation that includes Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal, members of the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security, and scientists of NASA.

“This is a potentially transformative moment in our partnership with India and we are determined to deliver on the strategic and historic opportunities that we can create together”, he told the CAP audience.  Noting that “India’s new government has won an historic mandate to deliver change and reform”, he said, the United States has “a singular opportunity” to help India meet the challenges of boosting two-way trade, driving South Asia’s connectivity, developing cleaner energy, deepening the security partnership in the Asia Pacific region and beyond.

Kerry lauded the dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit of Mumbai and Bangalore, of Silicon Valley and of Boston.  “That is precisely what is required in order to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges”, he said.

Throughout the address, he made several references to Prime Minister Modi’s leadership abilities, marking a complete turnaround in Washington’s decade-long stance of alienating him.  The US is now going all out to woo the Indian leader, following his resounding electoral victory.

“The new Indian Government’s plan, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ (Together with all, development for all) – that’s a concept, a vision, that we want to support”, Kerry said.  “We believe it’s a great vision and our private sector is eager to be a catalyst in India’s economic revitalization”.  He pointed out that American companies lead in exactly the key sectors where India wants to grow: high-end manufacturing, infrastructure, health-care and information technology.

“I believe the United States and India should continue to reach for the ambitious target that Vice President Biden laid out last summer in India, to push from $100 billion to $500 billion a year in trade”, he said.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivering remarks at a launch event inaugurating the ‘India: 2020' program at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC.  Photo credit: State Department

Kerry stressed on the need for “a clear and ambitious agenda”.  He told the CAP audience, “If India’s government delivers on its plans to support greater space for private initiative, if it creates greater openness for capital flows, if it limits subsidies that stifle competition, if it provides strong intellectual property rights, believe me, even more American companies will come to India.  They may even race to India”, he said.

“India has a decision to make about where it fits in the global trading system.  India’s willingness to support a rules-based trading order and fulfill its obligations will help to welcome greater investment from the United States and from elsewhere around the world.  The greater transparency and accountability that Prime Minister Modi put in place during his time as Chief Minister tells us he has already provided a model of how raising standards can actually increase economic growth”.

Emphasizing the shared vision, values and opportunities between India and the US, Kerry pointed out, “Only countries that reward creativity the way the United States and India do could have possibly launched Hollywood and Bollywood.  Only countries that celebrate the entrepreneur the way we do could have launched Silicon Valley and Bangalore as global epicenters for innovation”.  He underscored, “Innovation and entrepreneurship are in both of our DNA and they not only make us natural partners, they give us natural advantages in a world that demands adaptability and resilience”.

Kerry noted, with considerable appreciation, that Prime Minister Modi is cognizant of the opportunities that regional connectivity provides for India and for a more stable, prosperous region.  He recalled how Modi had invited leaders of other South Asian countries to his swearing-in ceremony and how he made speaking about connecting their economies one of his first orders of business which shows he is eager for India to play a leading role.

“Nowhere is that leadership more critical than in improving cross-border trade and relations between India and Pakistan”, Kerry said.

America’s top diplomat hailed Prime Minister Modi for taking the important first step of inviting his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration.  “Both men are business-minded leaders who want to create opportunity for their people”, Kerry told the CAP audience.  “I talked to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his visit there.  He was very encouraged, thought it was positive.  Improved trade is a win-win for both countries and both people”, he said.

Kerry dwelt at length on two issues: expanding educational ties across the board and increasing opportunities for young people in both India and the United States; and addressing the challenge of climate change.

He pointed out that millions of Indians are impacted by extreme weather and resource shortages.  “Pollution is taking a toll on India’s population”, he said.  “Of the ten cities in the world with the worst air quality, six are in India.  Each year, the effects of air pollution cause nearly 1.5 million deaths”.

Kerry believed the solution to climate change is energy policy.  “Prime Minister Modi understands the urgency and has called for a Saffron Revolution because the saffron color represents energy”, he said.

Envisioning “a new set of opportunities, new possibilities” in bilateral ties, Kerry noted, “We are two confident nations, connected by core values, optimistic nations, never losing sight of how much more we can and must achieve.  From women’s rights to minority rights, there is room to go further with our work together”.  He stressed it is imperative for both nations to speak with a common voice on violence against women, in any shape or form, as such violence is “a violation of our deepest values”.

Kerry addressed the Washington think-tank soon after he got back from an intensive trip to Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Europe, and it was clear that the crisis in the Middle East – the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza – was weighing heavy on his mind.  He sought international cooperation in looking for a “magic formula by which the violence could cease”.

Kerry told the CAP audience, “We will make no apologies for our engagement.  The region has known violence for far too long.  (There are) too many innocent people caught in the crossfire, too many lives ruptured, and so it is imperative for all of us in positions of responsibility to do everything we can to try to find a diplomatic way, a peaceful way forward if possible”.

Earlier, Vikram Singh, Vice President for National Security and International Policy at CAP, announced the launch of the ‘India: 2020' program which will examine short and long-term policy priorities for every aspect of the India-US strategic partnership with a focus on concrete recommendations that can be achieved by 2020.

Neera Tanden, President of CAP, told the audience, “India: 2020 is a new Center for American Progress initiative to better understand and explain the changing dynamics in India.  We call it 2020 because we are focused on the direction India is moving.  We are more focused on where India is going than where it’s been”, she said.


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