US President Barack Obama is coming to India on November 6. The US President will leave Washington on November 5 and arrive in Mumbai on November 6, the White House has announced. He is likely to discuss economic cooperation, defence cooperation, the war against terror and India's desire for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. CNN-IBN Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai spoke to US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer about Obama's agenda.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Ambassador, lots of questions are coming in from IBNLive.com. The first is from Raman Goswami. He asks you: The way US is trying to deal with India and Pakistan, does President Barack Obama realise and acknowledge that he is trying to ride two boats with no commonality either in the or destination they are headed.
Timothy Roemer: I certainly think that if you look in your preview of the President's trip - he is coming here for his longest stay probably of this presidency early in his administration, not in the second term, but in the first two years of his term. And that answers the question. He's acknowledging that India is a cornerstone of our strategic relationship with Asia. India is the first stop. He is going to Indonesia, Japan and then Korea -- all democracies. The values that we share with the people of India, the strategic importance of this relationship - not only bilaterally -- reflect that the partnership in Asia as well. The US can have a strong relationship with Pakistan, and we can have a very strong and strategic relationship with India.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But the two countries are poised at a very different time in their histories. Pakistan is bedeviled by terror, India is seen as part of this concert of democracy. Does the US acknowledge that? As the gentleman said that these are two boats with no commonality either in the or destination they are headed.
Timothy Roemer: Two points, Rajdeep. It's a very good question. And am glad you are taking questions from viewers out there. First of all, the President of the United States has acknowledged and challenged Pakistan to go after the cancer within the terrorism. We have seen the threat come not only from al-Qaeda , the Haqqani network but increasingly from a group like LeT. But secondly it is important. I, along with my family, attended the Commonwealth Games and the opening ceremony to support India. And we saw the goodwill of the people in that opening ceremony applaud the athletes from Pakistan and show that all the people of India support some kind of maybe dialogue between those two countries. So, I think while the US is working with Pakistan & its challenges, we also see the strategic long-term partnership and short-term partnership with India being so interesting to ask for -- shared values, shared benefits & shared vision.
Rajdeep Sardesai: The next question is a fallout of what you've just said. Padma Setu asks. Is America not aware of the fact that a major portion of its aid to Pakistan to counter terrorism is being spent on a proxy war waged against India through terrorists. If aware, why is it a silent spectator? Will Obama give an answer? This is a genuine concern. A 2-bn dollar aid has been given to Pakistan. Bob Woodward in his book says Pakistan army's enemy is No is India? Is the US worried at all about where this money will go?
Timothy Roemer: I think you've hit the nail on the head by quoting Woodward's book. Actually Woodward in his book he says something that the US President Obama to the Pakistani President Zardari in the Oval office in the spring of 2009. Let me be clear that the US will not be part of any kind of military build-up on Pakistan's part against the people of India. Perfectly clear on that point.
On counter-terrorism, surely it is in the interest of Pakistan and India to do more about that internal threat. Because probably a fragile Pakistan probably threatens India more than it does immediately even the US or Europe. I think it's in everybody's interest to see that Pakistan who has stepped up its responsibility in the last year to take this threat on, that they continue to do it.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But the 2 billion dollar aid - will it go? This handout of defence equipment? The fear being expressed in India that it will go into the hands of terrorists. Do you share that apprehension?
Timothy Roemer: I am a former member of Congress, I have served many years in the United States Congress. And as a member of congress, currently I know the Senators in Congress - men and women - all take this very seriously. When there is an arms sale to another country, there are specific uses as to what those weapons can be used for. And they monitor it very carefully. And congress will be looking at this and making sure that Pakistan is using it in the way the Obama administration intends. And certainly this is a message that the Secretary Clinton has underscored too.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Ambassador Roemer, the US President is staying at the Taj in Mumbai. Is this post-26/11 symbolism? Or does it stem from an acknowledgement now in Washington at the highest levels that India is a victim of terror -- terror perpetrated from across the border coming in mainly from Pakistan? Is that there acknowledgment? Or are we to see this purely as symbolism that he is going to Mumbai first and staying at the Taj?
Timothy Roemer: It is not only a recognition of the threat of terrorism. Groups like LeT but it's also an acknowledgment of the historic and unprecedented kind of terrorism cooperation between India and the US. The President is coming, meeting with people that have experienced that terrorism of 26/11. I remember going to the Taj and meeting the GM there - a man who lost his wife and both his children. We experienced 9/11 in America. 3,000 people killed. India’s 26/11, this individual's loss is absolutely heartbreaking. The President sees this, acknowledges the pain that this has caused India , Six Americans killed and is building one of the most imp strategic partnerships with India today , not only to protect India but protect the US in India’s common interest in the region and in the world.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But the concern which is being expressed by a number of readers is that at the same time President Obama and the US administration says that Pakistan is a frontline state in the war against terror. How do you reconcile that with India's fears that Pak-based groups are targeting India? How do you reconcile a country being a frontline state in the war against terror and yet allowing groups like LeT and Hafiz Saeed to roam around in Pakistan?
Timothy Roemer: The President, I think, has said that India is an indispensable partnership for the US for the 21st century. It is a defining relationship and a cornerstone of our policy in Asia. We have a historic civilian nuclear agreement with India, not with Pakistan. This is a transfer of very sensitive technology made in the USA that benefits our jobs, our economy but also benefits India. The villagers, who don't have access to wonderful lights, get a chance to read at night and work at night and employ new people to their job structures and villages. This is the kind of relationship that the people of America have with India...
Rajdeep Sardesai: And it is independent of Pakistan? And on a different level?
Timothy Roemer: It's not only independent. It’s strategic and the trajectory Rajdeep is up to the moon, literally. It is on economic trade, it is on education, it is on commerce, it is on reducing poverty. The US and India working together with common interests in places like afghan and this is an historic time. It's a very positive foreign policy new story between the US and India when there are lot of problems in the world. This is a great story!
Rajdeep Sardesai: Ok, point taken. You are looking at the positive and Anand Borkar who is writing in on our website ibnlive.com, says: I work in Bangalore and I thought the world was flat. But it seems President Obama doesn't agree which is why he is taking a tough stand on outsourcing. Is this a political compulsion or ideological issue for President Obama?
Timothy Roemer: Very good question. I know the media loves to concentrate on the conflict and the outsourcing stories. Let's look at the real relationship in here and the arc of trade. The US and India, particularly on the US side, India has moved from the 25th largest trading partner for the US to the 14th largest trading partner. Commerce, trade, people to people ties, biz to biz ties, Indians in US universities, US people coming here to study and as tourists. This is vibrant dynamic relationship...
Rajdeep Sardesai: You are not answering the outsourcing question, Mr Ambassador...
Timothy Roemer: The outsourcing question is an insignificant footnote in the book of trade, commerce, counter-terrorism cooperation and strategic partnership
Rajdeep Sardesai: Is it a political compulsion or an ideological decision because some believe that President Obama is anti-business and wants to be protectionist? How do you respond to that? That is the fear expressed by Indian companies.
Timothy Roemer: I disagree with that characterization. The fact that when President comes here to Mumbai, which is one of the financial capitals of the world leave alone India, he is going to talk about this economic and trade relationship and how it benefits both the countries. Not one country but both. It creates jobs in America when we sell equipments to help India modernise its defence, when we sell clean technology to help promote a cleaner environment, when we collaborate on the second green revolution on clean technologies for climate issues. This is a very exciting partnership. I know sometimes media like to bang but it is the big story that we are looking at. It is very positive but will we agree on every single issue, probably not. There will probably be some issues that the two countries will have to work through.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Next question comes from Rishi on IBNLive. He asks can you tell me why the US has increased its fees? On one hand Washington talks of closer relations, on the other hand it doesn't encourage greater people to people contact?
Timothy Roemer: Look at the people to people contact. I just mentioned that there are 1,03,285 Indians in American schools. We encourage this people to people contact, we encourage more Indians to visit the United Sates. Indian investment in the United States is also on a very, very positive trajectory up. That creates more jobs, more opportunities for Americans. We are encouraging that kind of relationship. Again I believe this is a positive story Rajdeep. We may not agree on every issue but I think your viewer is probably talking about the recent legislation that the Unites States Congress voted for that did not target India. It was trying to raise money for border security internationally but was not something that was targeted at India in any way.
Rajdeep Sardesai: The Indo-US civil nuclear deal was the centerpiece of the Bush visit five years ago. What is going to the centerpiece of the Obama visit according to you?
Timothy Roemer: The strategic partnership, the shared values of democracy, the opportunity for two great democracies to work together on every single problem facing mankind today. That's truly the big idea.
Rajdeep Sardesai: A viewer writes in: You say India is the partner and you are emphasising it all through and they have a common interest then why is the US not supporting India openly and aggressively for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Will President Obama make this commitment when he comes to India?
Timothy Roemer: You don't want me to get recalled before the President is here. This is certainly something that the President will talk about when he is Mumbai, he will probably talk about it when he is in Delhi. He is so honoured to be asked to talk to Parliament. As a former state senator and US senator to be invited to Parliament to speak, to democracy, to common values and principles; that's a great opportunity.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Are you hinting at that commitment?
Timothy Roemer: I am not going top go there.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Do you believe that India's place at high table has come?
Timothy Roemer: If you could look at my words and read the transcript of what we have been talking about, we have been talking about the partnership, the strategic partnership and the growth between one of the oldest democracies in the world and one of the largest democracies of the world. It is a very exciting time that the market between these two countries is about 1.5-1.6 billion people. There are democratic systems. The opportunity for the United States and India to work together on providing food stuff to third countries, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian, counter terrorism issues, fighting Lashkar-e-Toiba. You take it from there. I am not going to put words in your mouth.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Obama is also going to Rajghat. And in his recent speeches he keeps on invoking Gandhi. Is this in a sense - drawing on the past to build for the future. Is this visit going to be an opportunity to use the past to build a relationship for the future?
Timothy Roemer: This is a real genuine respect and admiration that the President of US has for Gandhiji. When he is asked in a meeting as whom would you like the most to have dinner, spend an evening with, learning, talking and sharing ideas; he doesn't say Abraham Lincoln, he even didn't say Martin Luther King - he says Gandhiji. I think again, it goes back to shared common ideas of understanding that these two countries have about respect for the ballot box, about diverse religions, working together, about the power of people and ideas and hope. This is really phenomenon.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sandeep Singh from Amritsar feels bad as the US President cancelled his visit to the holy city. Has the President cancelled trip for the headscarf row?
Timothy Roemer: Listen, If the President can get go to Kolkata and Goa and see the beautiful beaches, he can even get to Taj Mahal and Rajasthan- if he could go everywhere and half the places I have been so warmly received. We surely would like to have that place. But the President is coming to spend the longest day of his presidency oversees; he can't get to visit every single place. The more places he goes outside Mumbai and Delhi; the less time he can spend in Parliament. I would love him to go everywhere. But, hopefully he can visit to the Golden Temple on another visit to India.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Ambassador, I must ask you in the conclusion. You have said that the President Obama's mandate to shake hands a million Indian hands
Timothy Roemer: A billion actually.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Yes, a billion. You have traveled across the length and breadth of the country. What is your favourite Indian memory and the one that you will probably tell the President and share the experience? What is that one thing that you would like President Obama to do and also something that has inspired you about India?
Timothy Roemer: That's a very tough question because we had so many great experiences.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Any specific example.
Timothy Roemer: I will give you two examples on a quick note. Recently we had a trip to Jodhpur and I met a villager who came all excited to me and said Obama, Obama. I said what do you mean? The man replied "Osama's success is my success". I think what he wanted to talk about dreams and hopes come alive in a democracy and open systems. These are the things that the President has learnt about Gandhiji that he fought for India's independence and his teaching on religious tolerance. At Rajghat, on Gandhiji's birth anniversary with these religious coming together, overall a wonderful story about the two countries.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Ambassador, we are looking forward for the President's visit to India. Thank you.
Timothy Roemer: Thanking you. A pleasure talking to you.