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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Deputy Secretary Talbott
Address at India International Center,
New Delhi, India, January 30, 1999

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I would like to thank Director Vorha for that gracious introduction -- and for the chance to appear before this organization. I'm particularly grateful that so many of you would attend, given the competition for your attention that is taking place on the cricket grounds at Chennai.

Let me, before proceeding, introduce my friends and colleagues. You all know Ambassador Celeste. I came to India with Gen. Joe Ralston, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; as well as with Rick Inderfurth, our Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia; Gary Samore, Assistant to the President and Senior Director of the National Security Council staff; and Bob Einhorn, the senior non-proliferation specialist of the State Department; and -- someone known to many of you from his own days in Delhi -- Matt Daley of our South Asia Bureau.

All of us are impressed by the wealth of knowledge and experience assembled in this room. Of late, I've been reading as much as possible about Indian strategic thought, and the guest list of this event is a virtual syllabus of the crash course through which I've put myself. Because you all know the issues so well and because I want to leave as much time as possible for discussion, I won't review in detail U.S. policy in the wake of the Pokhran tests.

I have made available copies of several speeches that Rick Inderfurth and I have given in recent months, which have been well covered in the Indian press. Let me instead, by way of framing our discussion, say just a few words about the context and objectives of the dialogue that I have been conducting with Mr. Jaswant Singh -- a dialogue which will continue tomorrow and which we hope will be productive. We on the American side fully appreciate that India-U.S. relations have never been what they should be and what they can be. There has been an air of mutual frustration and disappointment about the relationship not just these last 8 months but in reality over the last 50 years.

America and India should be natural partners, but all-too-often, history, circumstance and incompatibilities of perspective seemed to have kept us from being so. This is a reality. But it is not necessarily a permanent one or an immutable one. In fact, in 1994, President Clinton set the goal of improving relations with India as one of the major foreign policy goals of his second Administration. He has spoken to me and to General Ralston about his aspirations in that regard many times, including on the eve of our departure to come here.

President Clinton recognizes the importance of India --economically, strategically, and politically -- to the future of a stable and prosperous Asia and indeed to a stable and prosperous world. We all recognize the leadership role that India has played in the first half-century of its independence, and can play to an even greater extent in the decades to come. We want to build on those strengths and establish stronger ties between the U.S. and India. The tests last May and the subsequent tests by Pakistan made that goal much harder. That, too, is a reality.

Many in India would say that the sanctions, consequent to the tests, have also made the task harder. I take the point. But instead of mutual recriminations or endless debates on nuclear theology -- and I know that virtually everyone in this room, American and Indian, is well versed on those issues -- the question that preoccupied me and my traveling companions is simply: Where do we go from here?

Let me point out what I think are some guiding principles as we go about scouting together a road on which India and the United States can move forward together. First and foremost, there is the principle of India's sovereignty. I stress this because I've seen a lot in your press to the effect that the United States presumes to dictate terms or demands to India. Nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn't succeed in doing so, and, more fundamentally, we would be wrong to try.

Caricatures to the contrary notwithstanding, we don't see ourselves as hegemons in general and certainly not with regard to your country. Rather, we see ourselves as concerned neighbors in the global village. Yes, India and the U.S. are geographically a long way from each other -- but in this increasingly interdependent world of ours, distance counts for less; conversely, common values, common interests, and common threats count for much more.

As part and parcel of fully respecting the sovereignty of your nation, we take it as predicate of our diplomatic dialogue that the only workable solution to the nuclear issue is one that Indian leaders and the Indian public clearly see as in the best long-term interests of India itself. We hope and assume you would accept the obvious corollary with regard to U.S. policy and U.S. interests. Diplomacy is the art of the possible.

No party involved in this dialogue will do anything contrary to its own interests, nor should we expect or even advocate otherwise. Which is why I emphasize that our approach is predicated on finding a mutually satisfactory way forward. When Jaswant Singh and I sit down across from each other at Hyderabad House, as we did yesterday and again today and will do tomorrow, the word "concession" is not in our vocabulary.

Unlike what's happening on the cricket pitch in Chennai, ours is not a zero-sum game. It's not about winning or losing; it's aimed at a win-win outcome. Which is to say our talks are about laying the foundation for a future in which the U.S. and India are able to maximize common goals -- and that means one in which we are also able to minimize and manage our differences. Let me be more specific.

It is a strategic goal of the United States, rooted in the strategic self-interest of the United States, to see a secure India; a more economically vibrant India; and, of course, a better relationship between India and the United States. The nuclear issue is a complicating factor but not necessarily a contradictory one (and I insist on that distinction).

In other words, we do not believe that it is contrary to the U.S.'s support for India's security and great-power role in the 21st-century world for us also to advocate and do everything we can to bring about a 21st-century world that relies less and less on nuclear weapons -- a world in which the role of nuclear weapons is waning, not waxing. That brings me to the essence of what the U.S. and India are trying to do in their current diplomatic exertions: We are trying to harmonize India's interests, convictions, and perceptions with those of the U.S. In many respects -- which is to say, on many issues -- that harmony is natural and therefore ought to be eminently feasible. But in one respect, it is difficult.

That is because India holds that view with which we very strongly disagree that for the foreseeable future India must develop and deploy a nuclear deterrent. For our part, the U.S. holds with equal conviction the view, with which India disagrees, that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a bedrock of whatever hope humanity has of eventually weaning itself off nuclear weaponry.

Now that may sound like a formula for impasse, for paralysis, for deadlock, and for polarizing -- even acrimonious -- debate whenever Indians and Americans come together, whether in Hyderabad House or here at the India International Center. Your Prime Minister and my President do not accept that pessimistic and fatalistic conclusion. In fact, they are counting on Jaswant Singh and me, along with Joe Ralston and the rest of our teams, to do everything in our power to demonstrate otherwise; to prove, in practice as well as theory, that India and the U.S. can overcome our differences and build on the common ground between us as the basis for the kind of relationship I described at the outset.

After 2 days of intense discussions with the Minister and in anticipation of a third intense day tomorrow, I can tell you that I am still hopeful that we will fulfil the charge we have been given. I'm not certain, but I'm hopeful. The devil, of course, resides in the details. And I hope you'll forgive me and General Ralston if we do not get into the details here. The conduct of diplomacy and the workings of democracy, after all, require a delicate balance between confidentiality and transparency, and I think we have maintained the right amount of both so far.

That leads me to a concluding thought: In our discussion this afternoon, the confidentiality factor will perforce impose some limits on at least the American side of give-and-take. But the transparency factor will also, I'm sure, be very much in evidence and will be very much to the benefit of a cause that I hope unites us -- which is the prospect of India and the U.S. working together to make the world a safer place for our own peoples and for everyone else.

From the beginning of the current process, eight rounds and 8 months ago, the U.S. position in the dialogue with India has reflected an earnest effort to understand and to the extent possible, to take account of India's concerns, aspirations, and perspectives. I'm sure that General Ralston and I are about to get a healthy dose of all three. So it's in that spirit, Mr. Vorha, I turn the proceedings back over to you.

[End of Document]

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