‘We have a strategic plus partnership now’

“The real promise is the potential we can have for global peace and prosperity when we come together.”

“The real promise is the potential we can have for global peace and prosperity when we come together.”  

On the key issues of the day that concern the global population, the U.S. and India are fully aligned, says U.S. Ambassador Richard Verma in an interview with The Hindu

Five days ahead of the 10th anniversary of the signing of the landmark Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, U.S. Ambassador Richard Verma spoke about the expanding range of India-U.S. relations, even as discussions continue over differences in issues such as nuclear cooperation, patent laws, and climate change. The freewheeling interaction took place at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai on July 13. Excerpts:

During U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi in January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he said they had reached a breakthrough on nuclear issues. India has also launched a Rs. 1,500 crore nuclear pool. What’s the present status of nuclear cooperation?

The civil nuclear cooperation is an important element of our relationship; this month is, in fact, the 10-year anniversary of the civil nuclear agreement signed between our two countries. There are a lot of reasons why it was important: it brought the two governments, the two peoples, together, and it brought U.S. companies and technology to help solve India’s power issues and to bring a non-carbon intensive power source to India. It also brought India back into the nuclear fold by bringing a certain number of its facilities under international safeguards. We got stuck the last few years on the question of liability. And what we were seeking was the kind of practice that existed in other countries on liability, which is that in the event of an accident, their liability is channelled to the operator. This wasn’t a U.S. requirement; this was the practice internationally. And so that’s what we are seeking. What the two leaders agreed to do following Prime Minister Modi’s visit last September was to establish a contact group. What happened over a period of three or four months was that experts, legal and nuclear, from both countries sat down and worked out an understanding. And we got a very clear commitment from the Indian side that it would abide by the international convention and ratify it. So, that was an important step. We affirm the principle of channelling to the operator. Subsequently, the establishment of the insurance pool is also an important step to provide insurance coverage, where there may still be some risk and exposure. Now what we have to do is make sure that the commitments between our governments are reflected in commercial contracts. And that discussion and interaction with NCPIL [Nuclear Power Corporation of India] is ongoing. I am very optimistic about having U.S. companies, and companies from other countries as well, help deliver nuclear energy to India. But this is not a quick process — bringing a nuclear reactor to India is a multi-year process. But I think following the series of understandings and India’s commitment to ratify the treaty on supplementary compensation, the one that focuses on liability, these all are important steps that would bring us to the conclusion of commercial arrangements which are very much under way now. So, I am actually very optimistic about where this is heading.

While addressing an India-U.S. CEO summit hosted by Mr. Modi, President Obama had promised a $4 billion financial package to India and said the two countries would work together to develop new technologies. What has been the progress in technological cooperation between the two countries, especially in clear energy?

I think the President was specifically referring to clear energy financing. And we have brought nearly $4 billion to the table already through Exim Bank, TDA [Trade and Development Agency], and USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development]. Just last week we established another multi-million dollar fund with our Indian counterparts, to bring green technologies and energy solutions to communities where they don’t currently exist.

I actually think clean energy and climate is the new and significant pathway of cooperation for the future. I have seen the level of excitement and interest in this area between our companies, our governments, and we have lined up very aggressively to support the 175 GW commitment for renewable power in wind, solar and biomass energy. We want to be, have been, and will be close partners. [This] means we help bring financing, technology, and expertise, and we consult closely. The other part is on the negotiation side when it comes to, let’s say, reducing the amount of carbon producing sources of electricity. In that regard, the Paris climate talks will be very important. We have had excellent discussions with the Indians on the leadership role they intend to play at Paris. I think the Prime Minister said it himself. He doesn’t need to be convinced about the impacts of climate change. He’s a believer. The President’s envoy for climate change was here, and had very constructive discussions. And we are looking forward to working with India over the course of the year. I would say we had very good discussions with India on HFC [hydrofluorocarbon] reductions too, and welcomed India’s proposal to reduce HFCs.

Another contradiction in India-U.S. ties is the issue of drug patents and India’s Patent Law, which provides for a high standard of patentability in order to keep the costs of life-saving drugs low. U.S. drug companies have raised objections to Indian patent laws several times. How do you reconcile these differences?

Through dialogue. We had very good dialogue on intellectual property through the trade policy forum, again after the Prime Minister’s visit last September. And in one tangible example, we sat down and were able to consult with our Indian counterparts on the new intellectual property policy that the government is drafting. That’s a very good development. We have talked about needs for courts with an expertise in intellectual property; that’s a very good development as well. Now there’s a difference of opinion on Section 3d of the Patent act. We are going to keep talking about that particular component of legislation. When I talk about intellectual property to Indian audiences, I get a very strong agreement about the need to protect innovation and creative discoveries and products. Because when you look at Indian innovation, whether it’s in the film industry, music, art, science or technology, India is leading the world in so many categories. I think Indian innovators want strong intellectual property protection and enforcement. So I actually think we have a strong meeting of minds when it comes to having a system that protects innovation and creative works. We keep working on the pharmaceutical and drug issues, but on the notion of having intellectual property protection, I think we both support a much more robust system.

The U.S.’s ‘pivot’ towards Asia is said to be one of the key foreign policy initiatives of the Obama administration. What’s the main goal of this rebalance? And what role does the U.S. expect India to play?

The rebalance was simply a reaffirmation of the U.S.’s role as a Pacific [Ocean] power. And we do that through multiple channels. Economics is a big part of that. If you look at the progress that has been made on the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement], for example, that would be very significant in integrating the region economically. Then the military agreements and arrangements that have been made with a number of countries are important as well. When it comes to India, there’s a convergence of our interests with India’s Act East policy and our rebalance. We actually do have a convergence of interest and those interests are upholding the rule of law in Asia, standing for the peaceful resolution of disputes and for free and open markets, for human rights and for economic integration. Those were principles that bring our two countries together; that we think are to be upheld and to be defended. And that’s the promise of what can happen when the world’s two largest democracies come together. Asia is where the word’s greatest population lies and where the greatest trade and economic activity will lie in the future. So it only makes sense that our two countries actually work together cooperatively in Asia. I think this is what the Joint Vision Statement that the President and Prime Minister entered into in January on the Asia Pacific was about. It sets out a path for future cooperation in Asia and in the Indo-Pacific on maritime cooperation, humanitarian assistance, disaster response and economic cooperation. There are so many different areas we can work together and where our interests are naturally aligned.

What’s the view in the U.S. about India’s engagement with Russia and China? In Ufa, Prime Minister Modi even said unilateral sanctions are hurting the global economy in an apparent criticism of the West’s sanctions policy...

Look, we have seen India emerging as a global strategic, political and economic player. The President and the Secretary of State have said we support India’s rise in that regard. Having India play this role as the world’s largest democracy is very important. That’s why we supported India’s seat in a reformed UN Security Council, membership in multilateral export control regimes, and the leadership role in Paris at the climate talks. With regard to China, it’s interesting that both the U.S. and India have similar elements of relationship with China, involving both competition and cooperation. We both have economic connections with China. We both have security and human rights concerns. When we have those concerns we raise them and that’s a good thing. So frankly we welcome India’s relations, not only with China, but with other countries too, as Mr. Modi sets out to reassert India’s regional and global leadership role. We don’t always agree, but that’s OK. We have to pursue our national interests. Sometimes, historical ties will lead us closer to some countries than others. But on the key issues of the day, on the big issues that concern the global population, the U.S. and India are fully aligned.

People-to-people ties between India and the U.S. have been more robust than state-state relations. Are there any initiatives you could highlight in this regard specific to the southern region in India?

I am glad you asked the question. I think people-to-people ties are at the heart of our strategic relationship. For many years the governments have tried to catch up to where the people are. I can tell you from my own experience, having my parents emigrate from here in the 1960s… my father going to the U.S. on an academic scholarship from a small village. I had a chance to go back and visit that village and see where my mother and grandmother lived. It really gives you an appreciation of the depths and strengths of people-to-people contacts and how important those are.I am a big proponent of our academic exchange programme, for example, which is increasingly expanding across India, including southern India. In health, for example, I am visiting the National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis [in Chennai]. They have strong partnerships with our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with our National Institute of Heath. I think health cooperation is a big area. If we had a strategic partnership before, we now have a strategic plus partnership because we are working in more areas across the globe. Together, we now work in 10 countries, on issues like health and child mortality.

Defence is a major area of cooperation across southern India. Clean energy is another area, so is space cooperation, given what we have worked together in deep space exploration — the Mars mission, for example — and earth orbit cooperation: in weather forecasting, climate change monitoring… . The potential is unlimited.

The real promise is not what we do for each other. It’s really what the Prime Minister said recently: it’s the potential that we can have for global peace and prosperity when we come together.

Is there any initiative that’s happening to enhance cooperation between the two countries in sports?

I think diplomacy and sports cooperation is a terrific way to bring people together. I was thrilled to see an Indian being drafted in the Dallas Mavericks organisation. I was thrilled to play host to one of the Indian players in the Pittsburgh Pirates organisation. Another has joined them already and will hopefully make it to the Major league baseball next year. We see the potential to bring people together, whether it’s in league baseball or cricket or field hockey It’s something I really believe in. I am a big proponent of it. We will work and try to do more in the years ahead.

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2020 6:35:13 PM |

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