Roemer could be key to U.S.-India relationship

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When former Indiana congressman Timothy Roemer arrived in New Delhi in July as President Barack Obama’s new ambassador to India, he inherited one of the few U.S. international relationships that had dramatically improved during the Bush administration.

Bush had reversed course from the sanctions and hectoring the Clinton administration employed toward India after its 1998 nuclear tests, and left it to India and Pakistan to resolve their dispute over Kashmir. Most of all, under Bush, India felt that it had managed to at long last escape from being lumped with Pakistan and Afghanistan as problem children of the region.

But well before Roemer’s arrival there were concerns in New Delhi about the new administration. Those concerns have continued, making the state visit this week of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the words of Nicholas Burns, a high-ranking State Department official, “a very big symbolic gesture toward India” by the new administration.

Shortly before the 2008 presidential elections, Obama created considerable anxiety in New Delhi when he told Time magazine that as president he would seek to mediate the Kashmir dispute, even mentioning Bill Clinton as a possible envoy for the task. India was none too pleased, and vigorously and successfully lobbied against it.

Just last week, Indians took great offense to two speeches Obama made on his trip to Japan, China and Korea. In Tokyo, Obama gave a speech on the importance of Asia, without once mentioning India. And in a joint statement with Chinese Premier Hu Jintao Indians saw signs of Obama encouraging a larger Chinese role in mediating relations between historic rivals India and Pakistan.

While perhaps inadvertent, such slights suggest “that nobody in the Obama administration is standing up now for India,” said C. Raja Mohan, a professor of South Asian studies currently on a fellowship at the Library of Congress.

Burns, a former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and now a professor at Harvard, attributes some of the problem to the administration simply having too many balls in the air. “The problem is that [the Obama administration] has been so focused by necessity on Afghanistan and Pakistan and on building the relationship with China, that there is the perception that that it is not spending as much time thinking about the India relationship,” he told POLITICO...

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