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US won't back India's UN bid to please China

Last updated on: June 04, 2010 14:43 IST

United States President Barack Obama's administration has gone further than any previous US administration in expressing support for India's bid for a permanent seat in the United Nation's Security Council.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after co-chairing the dialogue with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, said India "is an indispensable partner and a trusted friend."

"We believe that a rising India is good for the United States and good for the world," she said.

Two days before Clinton and Krishna sat down in the Benjamin Franklin Room on the eighth floor of the State Department, Under Secretary of State William Burns in a major treatise on 'India's Rise and the Promise of US-India Partnership' had, when relentlessly peppered with questions if the US would endorse India's candidacy for a permanent seat on the UNSC, stopped only just short of publicly declaring Washington's endorsement.

"India's evolving role underscores the fact that it's going to have a very important part to play in any consideration of reform at the UN Security Council," he said. "It's obvious that the Security Council, as has been the case with other parts of international architecture over the last few years, is an issue that needs to be addressed so that it reflects the realities of 2010."

Burns argued, "Now, obviously, we want to try to do that in a way which is going to preserve the effectiveness of the Security Council, but this administration has made clear not only its openness to reform and some expansion of permanent membership in the Security Council, but we've also underscored the importance we attached to India's role."

"So, I think India's going to be a central part of the consideration that is bound to come of Security Council reform," he reiterated, and added, "I do very much understand the significance of Security Council reform. I think it's an important issue for the United States to address and I think India's going to be very much a part of that process."

When he was pressed continuously, Burns said while the Security Council reform was an issue that the administration considers imperative, "We want to go about it in a way that is going to preserve the effectiveness of the Security Council, but we also recognize that that means that the realities of 1945 don't apply today."

"And that means that for countries like India, and for other countries, we need very much to consider how their increasing role in global affairs is matched by the responsibilities that they can discharge in the most important parts of the international architecture."

Clinton, questioned as to how the US can hold back from endorsing India as a permanent member of the UNSC after showering kudos that India "is an indispensable partner" and a "trusted friend," reminded that in her opening remarks she had noted that "we don't have any way forward yet on Security Council reform."

"But we are obviously very committed to considering India," she said, but again threw in the caveat that "at this point, as you probably know, there is no consensus in the world that is the challenge of dealing with multilateral organisations."

However, Clinton re-emphasised that "we are definitely committed to the consideration of India."

But do these unprecedented declarations of support an endorsement make? Can India expect Washington to start shouting from rooftops that it is rooting for India as a permanent member of the UNSC and that all others should follow suit? After all, though a US endorsement wouldn't be the be-all and end-all in terms of making India's candidacy a done deal, there's no denying that a US endorsement would sure darn well help -- and help in a big way.

However, such an endorsement is highly unlikely -- at least in the short and medium term. Senior administration officials, including those from the National Security Council and the Pentagon, told that Washington's reticence in terms of an endorsement was not so much to do with 'Pakistan's sensitivity', particularly at a time when Islamabad is once again a strategic partner in President George W Bush's so-called war on terror in Afghanistan, now owned by Obama.

The officials said the main reason for the US running shy of a full-fledged unambiguous, unequivocal endorsement of India was China.

The US does not want to get in the weeds with Beijing at a time when it is so important in terms of US-led diplomacy against the likes of North Korea, Iran, among others, not to mention that China holds US's debt.

The officials predicted that China's anticipated opposition would be intense, and according to a senior Pentagon source, "The last thing we want now is China as a 'peer competitor.'"

They noted that China had done some major behind-the-scenes lobbying to torpedo the US-India nuclear deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, although ultimately seeing the writing on the wall, had acquiesced. "But that would be nothing and a speck in terms of the opposition we could expect," if US were to publicly campaign for India, they said.

Diplomatic observers pointed out that there were also the "perennial whiners" in parts of the entrenched bureaucracy in various agencies who also argued about the utility value of endorsing India. The argument extended to dire predictions that once the US offered such an endorsement and if ultimately India did get a permanent seat, that would not ensure unconditional support when it came to US-led efforts, considering India's voting record in the United Nations with regard to such efforts.

These observers spoke of officials within the administration warning of India wielding its veto power against the US, when it came to issues sanctioning the likes of Iran, Myanmar and others, even though New Delhi has voted for various censures of Teheran at the International Atomic Energy Agency and has pledged to go along with any UNSC resolutions, despite making it clear that it strongly objects to punitive sanctions and would much rather prefer sustained diplomacy and dialogue.

So, President Obama may also have declared that India is "a rising power and a responsible global power" and there's no argument with that in any quarter. But the US batting for India on this issue and hitting a few home runs to bolster India's bid, they said, would be for the moment akin to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot!

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC