Cablegate: Jaswant Singh Believes the Upa Is Incapable of Managing the Indo/Us Relationship
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 NEW DELHI 008231
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/21/2015
TAGS: PREL ECON PGOV PINR IN PK IR
SUBJECT: JASWANT SINGH BELIEVES THE UPA IS INCAPABLE OF MANAGING THE INDO/US RELATIONSHIP
REF: NEW DELHI 2949
Classified By: Ambassador David C. Mulford, for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (C) Summary: Meeting with U/S Burns and the Ambassador in New Delhi on October 21, former Foreign Minister and BJP leader Jaswant Singh expressed wholehearted support for the India/US agenda and its many components, but reading between the lines, that support was actually qualified. Singh seemed preoccupied by domestic political considerations and very critical of the UPA and its performance. He was adamant that the UPA lacked the ability to properly manage the India/US agenda and was critically handicapped by its reliance on Communist support to remain in power. Singh implied that as long as the UPA was ruling, the US should not expect dramatic progress on its agenda and would have to wait for an NDA return to power to see real progress. This changed stance reflects the changed fortunes of his party, which has suffered many political setbacks since joining the opposition in 2004. Singh appeared to doubt that the BJP and its NDA allies could provide sufficient influence in the current political setup to move the process forward, that the BJP would place domestic considerations first, and would not sacrifice its political capital to advance the US/India agenda. End Summary
Preparation for POTUS
2. (C) U/S Burns opened the meeting by noting that he was in India in June, prior to PM Singh's Washington visit, and is here again in preparation for the POTUS visit to New Delhi likely to take place early in 2006. The purpose of the visit is to interact with Indian interlocutors regarding issues in the India/US bilateral relationship such as Pakistan/India, and nuclear questions. The U/S pointed out that there has been a ""sea change"" in Washington regarding the relationship with India, and that there is broad congressional support for a broader relationship. He asked Jaswant Singh for his thoughts and advice.
3. (C) Singh referred to previous meetings with President Bush in which they ""exchanged views"" regarding the relationship, and that he was clear regarding how he wanted things to develop. He pointed out that during the President's first term the administration was ""preoccupied: and did not give proper attention to the relationship, and then ""we (the BJP) were thrown out"" in 2004. Singh praised Ambassador Sen in Washington, saying he was ""capable and able,"" and had been hand-picked by the NDA government for the post. He recalled informing Ambassador Sen about the ""pitfalls"" of the relationship prior to his departure for Washington, and conferring with him in July. Singh revealed that the Ambassador and PM had provided him with a complete readout of the Bush visit.
Advice to the Prime Minister
4. (C) Singh said he would be frank and tell the U/S exactly what advice he had provided the PM. He opined that the UPA ""does not have the intellectual commitment to improve US/India relations,"" as it had inherited its platform in this regard from the previous NDA government, and had ""grown into"" its present position. He purportedly told the PM that India needs to stop asking for favors and start delivering to the world community. Singh also pointed out that the UPA would not be able to deliver as long as it was propped up by the Communists, who he claimed are bent on ""hollowing out"" the Congress party by ""disapproving anything and everything."" Singh emphasized that these foreign policy issues are inherently ""political,"" and the PM has not properly dealt with their political dimensions.
5. (C) The PM purportedly responded to Singh that he cannot ""rely on"" anyone in the UPA leadership to give him proper advice except Finance Minister Chidambaram and some of the ""scientists."" Singh emphasized to the PM that the non-proliferation regime has changed from one of controlling testing to controlling the production of fissile material and the GOI needs to stay ahead of these trends. He also endorsed a missile defense system for India, saying that it makes sense to adopt a defensive rather than an offensive strategy. Singh concluded his advice to the PM by emphasizing that the real enemies of Congress are not in the opposition, but ""with you,"" and they will ""defeat you.""
6. (C) Singh characterized the PM as a ""good economist,"" who is good at ""reading paper,"" but not strong on executing policy. As he told Strobe Talbott, after the Indian nuclear test of 1998, India must demonstrate that it is ""part of the solution and not a problem,"" and to realize this, the country must have a total agenda, which the UPA does not have. Singh then attacked the UPA for its undue ""secrecy"" regarding its decision on the IAEA vote, saying it was not necessary, and the GOI must explain to the opposition its reasoning behind the vote.
7. (C) U/S Burns emphasized that the US is ready, and there is a growing political consensus in favor of a broad expansion of Washington/New Delhi ties. There are many components to this cooperation, including a much more intensive business and economic dialogue on trade, energy, defense production, and opening investment. The second piece of the policy regards new cooperation in entirely new areas such as space launch, and democratization. The UN has just launched a Democracy Fund, and the USG hopes it can work with the GOI on this.
8. (C) Civil Nuclear cooperation between the US and India is ""very contentious"" in Congress, with some criticizing the President for putting too much trust in India. We are convinced, however, that we are right, and that it is in the US interest to go from the ""abnormal"" situation of the past 30 years to a new pragmatic relationship, and he hoped Congress would come around in the next few months. The US has already gone to the NSG and emphasized the need to liberalize and modernize norms regarding India, and there are a full range of technical and scientific projects the two countries can work together on. By the time of the POTUS visit, he predicted that we will see ""dramatic steps forward.""
9. (C) The U/S also pointed out that there is scope for ""much more active cooperation"" with India in regional affairs and in transnational issues such as HIV/AIDS, crime, narcotics, trafficking in persons and nuclear nonproliferation. He did not see much ""separation"" between the two countries on these issues and foresaw India playing a global role in the future.
10. (C) U/S Burns pointed out that the US position on Iran and the IAEA is more ""nuanced"" than popularly perceived in India. The USG seeks a negotiated settlement of the dispute. The Secretary has met with the Russians to broaden the diplomatic environment beyond the EU3 to eventually include Russia, India, China, Brazil, and South Africa. The goal is to isolate Iran and pressure it back to the negotiating table.
11. (C) Emphasizing that the new government in Teheran is ""more conservative"" than the previous one, (half of its Cabinet comes from the Revolutionary Guard), the U/S noted that it will need more time to determine its policy orientation, and may be getting back to a more balanced position. The US is prepared to go to the IAEA and the UNSC for votes, but would prefer multilateral negotiations, and believes that Russia shares this view. India should encourage Iran to return to talks and should advise agaisnt enrichment. It is significant that India voted with the majority in the IAEA and that Iran is isolated. The President has agreed that every country has a right to peaceful nuclear energy, but Iran needs to rebuild trust within the IAEA that was lost by its deception. This will be a gradual diplomatic process in which India will pay a key part. Iran must come to realize that its position on nuclear weapons does not make sense.
India is Supportive, But...
12. (C) Jaswant Singh maintained that the BJP has always pressed India to help by engaging Iran, and believes that a nuclear armed Iran is not in India's interest. However, the UPA stance on this issue is not correct. It needs to sit down and consult with the opposition and explain its position. India is in a unique position in this regard in that 40 percent of its Muslims are Shias and it is the third largest Shia country in the world. India must know something about Islam, as its Muslims are not involved in terrorism.
A Spotty Historic Record
13. (C) Singh characterized the US/India relationship as ""episodic"" and reminisced about when he was Defense Minister, when ""the only word in the US vocabulary was no."" He noted that both countries need to engage politically and learn from each other to get out of this pattern of highs and lows. He emphasized that he was totally on board when it comes to the US/India economic agenda, and there was room for dramatic movement in military to military relations. However, the biggest difficulty is the huge gap between promise and delivery. The GOI is saddled with an ""obstinate bureaucracy"" which is determined ""not to let anything happen."" The private sector cannot implement economic reform on its own. The GOI must be engaged.
14. (C) The Ambassador pointed out that Secretary Snow is coming to New Delhi in November to address these issues. He noted that one of the greatest needs in India is the further liberalization of the financial market, and the USG is confused about the division of labor, as there seems to be a contradiction between the policies of the Finance Minister and the Reserve Bank. The Bank is very conservative and this is the biggest impediment to economic progress. Snow will need guidance on how and where to push.
15. (C) Singh responded that this was the first he had heard of these problems. The Reserve Bank should not be making economic policy, he opined, and should restrict its activities to managing the currency. The Finance Ministry may be using the Bank to justify its failure to deliver. The Reserve Bank Governor Dr. Reddy meets with him often, and he would discuss these issues with him. This problem stems from the UPA's failure to identify who runs the financial portfolio. The Communists remain the greatest obstacle and will continue to defeat the government on essentials.
Caution Is Justified
16. (C) In response to a question from U/S Burns, regarding parliamentary and public support for closer US/India ties, Singh emphasized that the BJP is committed, but was skeptical regarding the political climate. This is a democracy and no one can predict future priorities and political instincts can overwhelm policy considerations. The Communists will obstruct the policy and the PM should deal with this problem. Singh emphasized that the US should not have frontloaded the relationship with nuclear issues but should have waited to construct a large political base first.
17. (C) Kashmir is another place where the UPA may not be able to deliver. The NDA worked to put the past behind and move forward. However, Kashmir and the range of India/US issues are hampered by institutional memories. The NDA made progress to overcome this and PM Singh is trying, but Singh was not hopeful. The NDA will support the US/India agenda, but the UPA is dubious, especially since there is a hierarchy of controversial issues to be dealt with that will be difficult to address.
Trust But Verify
18. (C) Singh was also skeptical regarding the US/Pakistan relationship, saying that he had dealt with President Musharraf earlier and he epitomized the ""best options syndrome."" Whoever becomes the leader of Pakistan, whether a military dictator or an elected civilian, is embraced by the US as the ""best option,"" to address Pakistan's problems. He complained that he could not work within the ""best option"" paradigm, as Musharraf has ""betrayed me."" He is giving the US what it wants and the US must continue with him to try to get the maximum advantage, but should not expect Musharraf to ""repeatedly sell his soul.""
19. (C) The US Pakistan policy structure is based on one person. Singh noted that no US diplomatic mission or diplomat has been attacked in India, but that is not the case with Pakistan. The US and India are ""natural allies,"" but Pakistan is different. It was carved out of India to provide Muslims a separate nation and must continue this separation to survive. Pakistan has repeatedly betrayed Indian peace efforts. He remembered going to Kandahar to retrieve the hi-jacked Indian aircraft and its passengers. The hi-jackers drove to Quetta where they were warmly welcomed by their ISI handlers. Musharraf has given you all that he can.
20. (C) When U/S Burns responded that the US needs Pakistan to jointly combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Singh urged the US to determine whether it is ""paying too high a price"" for services from Pakistan. He pointed out that if left alone the people of Kashmir would have solved their problems, but Pakistan has insisted on interfering in order to justify India's partition. He conceded that India needs a peaceful and economically viable Pakistan.
21. (C) U/S Burns emphasized that the US will move forward with Pakistan, but the A.Q. Khan problem has not yet been fully resolved. The US no longer maintains a ""hyphenated relationship"" when it comes to relations with India and Pakistan in any case, and the US/India relationship is much broader in its scope.
23. (C) Singh concluded by urging the US not to become ""illogical"" in its relations with states such as Pakistan. He recounted how an American at the IAEA had once proposed a new category of ""gross violator"" of the NPT. If this policy had been pursued in regards to Pakistan, it would have upset US/Pakistan policy. The same thing could now happen with Iran. The US need less arbitrary policies that appear less ""mismatched"" than at present. Singh confirmed that he hoped to travel to the US at the beginning of 2006 and would visit the State Department while in Washington.
24. (C) Singh made the right noises regarding NDA support for the US/India agenda, and the Indian stance regarding Iran in the IAEA, but appeared more focused on domestic politics than the international agenda. His criticism of the Prime Minister and his performance was more vitriolic than expected, and he was particularly contemptuous of the UPA's Communist allies. Singh was convinced that the UPA is an unholy alliance between a clueless Congress and rapacious Communists that is unworkable and unable to deliver on any aspect of the political/economic agenda, whether it be economic reform, dealing with Iran and Pakistan or the India/US relationship. Such an absolutist approach would imply that only a return of the NDA to power can save the agenda. The BJP out of power presented a different picture than the BJP in control in New Delhi. The party has suffered many setbacks since leaving office in 2004 and is clearly on the defensive. It is clear that as long as it faces an uphill battle against the UPA, it will not be prepared to sacrifice its domestic political fortunes on the altar of improved US/India relations.
25. This cable was cleared by U/S Burns.