November 9, 2010

OBAMA SCORES BUT WHAT ABOUT THESE ISSUES ?

[ First, kudos to the President. In hindsight, his refusal to mention Pakistan on Saturday was smart from his vantage point; it meant that the issue didn’t dominate all three days of his visit and overshadow all others, as happened when British Prime Minister David Cameron visited India earlier this year. The trumpeting of commerce and jobs played well to both audiences and sucked up all the newsprint available for the weekend, along with some warm and fuzzy moments with Indian youth.]

Despite President Obama’s success at charming India on his three day India visit, two big issues went unaddressed.

President Barack Obama seems to have achieved something of a diplomatic coup during his India visit: He avoided any slip-ups that diverted attention from his chief mission – jobs for Americans and charming India.

But two big issues went unaddressed that show there remains much work to be done, despite the warmth of the visit, for this bilateral relationship to scale the new heights both sides say they want.

First, kudos to the President. In hindsight, his refusal to mention Pakistan on Saturday was smart from his vantage point; it meant that the issue didn’t dominate all three days of his visit and overshadow all others, as happened when British Prime Minister David Cameron visited India earlier this year. The trumpeting of commerce and jobs played well to both audiences and sucked up all the newsprint available for the weekend, along with some warm and fuzzy moments with Indian youth.

And Monday, he could say what India wanted to hear on Pakistan (no safe havens, prosecutions for the Mumbai terrorists) and on Afghanistan (we will not abandon you) while chastising the Indians on Burma in a way that the U.S. can now say to Pakistan that it wasn’t as if the President let India off the hook, either. Then there was the largely meaningless but rhetorically significant India-in-the-United-Nations-Security-Council line, which delighted Delhi.

The White House will be feeling very good about all this, especially as the visit took center stage in our newspaper and others in the U.S. over the past few days, with the Democrats’ midterm catastrophe receding into the distance.

There are, however, two caveats to this rosy scenario.

The first is what was established five years ago as the cornerstone of this new relationship: The civil nuclear pact between the two nations. This was something the Obama administration actually thought was done and dusted when it came into office two years ago, according to a senior U.S. official. But they found that several hurdles remained to make the pact operational in a way that would benefit U.S. nuclear power suppliers.

The Indian Parliament’s recent liability bill threw up another hurdle and furious negotiations have been underway for the past several weeks to get Indian regulators to find a solution that would allow U.S. companies to supply equipment here without fear of crippling liability should something go wrong. Mr. Obama said in his Parliament speech that “we are now ready to begin implementing our civil nuclear agreement.”

But there was no sign that the issues separating the two sides had been resolved, despite how hard the U.S. had tried to secure agreement before the President’s visit. A spokesman at the U.S. embassy couldn’t be reached for comment.

The other major issue that the U.S. had signaled it would like to see is greater access to India’s retail market, which is now very restrictive toward foreigners, especially multi-brand retailers such as Wal-Mart. Mike Duke, CEO of Wal-Mart had pressed the issue on a visit here before Mr. Obama arrived, arguing that permitting foreign ownership of retail stores like Wal-Mart in India would reduce prices, create jobs and modernize the country’s agricultural market and supply chain.

If foreign direct investment “in retail is opened up, we can contribute more,” Mr. Duke told a group of Indian executives and bureaucrats. “That’s why we support opening up the retail sector 100% to foreign investment.”

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, at the time said the government was in favor of opening retail but didn’t say when or how. It appears that the when certainly wasn’t during Mr. Obama’s visit because retail, as far as we can tell, didn’t warrant a mention in any of the many communiqu├ęs distributed by both sides yesterday.

Pakistan got mentioned more often than retail and we know how sensitive that is. The new parameters for the relationship laid out by the White House didn’t even mention U.S. foreign direct investment in India but did mention Indian foreign direct investment in the U.S. A spokesman for Prime Minister Singh couldn’t be reached for comment.

As we said, overall Mr. Obama navigated the tricky shoals of his India visit carefully and effectively. But these are two high priorities for U.S. business that appear to have been shunted to one side in the interests of smooth bilateral relations. A test of the strength of the new partnership will be to see if these are revived and solutions are found or whether they are allowed to languish in the interests of maintaining the appearance of harmony in the new, indispensable relationship of the 21st century.

If you see other issues between the two countries that you think should have been addressed but weren’t, please leave them in the Comments.

@ The Wall Street Journal

GIBBS THREATENS TO PULL OBAMA FROM INDIA TALKS AFTER PRESS DISPUTE

["At one point, Gibbs literally had his foot lodged in the closing front door, asking if the Indian security officials pushing hard to shut it were going to break his foot," Wilson continued. "More angry words ensued, and after Gibbs convinced them, through high volume and repetition, that he was serious" about pulling Obama, the press secretary had the security retinue's full attention.]
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is  known for sparring with White House reporters, making for what often seems an antagonistic mood in the press briefing room.
But during President Obama's trip to India, Gibbs assumed the role of press advocate and threatened to pull Obama out of bilateral talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh because three U.S. reporters were blocked from covering the meeting.
Indian officials would let only five reporters into Hyderabad House in New Delhi instead of the agreed-upon eight.
The Washington Post's Scott Wilson—who was on White House pool duty Monday and filed the report for the White House press corps—wrote that "Gibbs announced loudly and persistently on steps of Hyderabad House that he would pull" President Obama out of the meeting "unless 'the White House 8,' as we've come to be known, were all allowed in."
As the discussion continued, Gibbs grew more animated.
"At one point, Gibbs literally had his foot lodged in the closing front door, asking if the Indian security officials pushing hard to shut it were going to break his foot," Wilson continued. "More angry words ensued, and after Gibbs convinced them, through high volume and repetition, that he was serious" about pulling Obama, the press secretary had the security retinue's full attention
Gibbs' intervention worked: The Indian officials eventually allowed the full American press delegation into the event, along with a larger group of Indian reporters.
@ Yahoo News (Photo of Gibbs, right, arguing Monday with an official from the Indian prime minister's office: Charles Dharapak/AP)