Hillary Clinton’s ‘soft’ approach to drive hard bargains

NEW DELHI: Unlike her predecessor Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s enthusiasm for and familiarity with things Indian and her emphasis on ‘soft’ power as a powerful tool to propel the bilateral relationship forward stood out during her five-day visit.

From her “personal tribute” to the Taj Mahal hotel staff who faced the terrorists onslaught in Mumbai, to her visits to St Xaviers College, Mumbai and Delhi University to speak about education and women and children’s welfare (while singling out a poem she read by

an Indian woman Anasuya Sengupta, which eloquently described the ‘silence of women’), her enthusiasm for ‘Indian’ cuisine and taking time out to shop for personal souvenirs, Clinton aimed to strike a chord with as many people as possible.

As she did in the marketplace, deftly bargaining for kurtis and brass bangles at Dilli Haat, Clinton drove a hard bargain with her official interlocutors, urging a reluctant Indian government to accept the end user monitoring/verification agreement, which will allow major weapons acquisitions for the Indian armed forces, but subject to some obtrusive conditions.

According to diplomatic sources, the agreement was finalised on Monday, as Clinton went from one official engagement to another, meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Opposition Leader LK Advani and External Affairs Minister SM Krishna.

Members of the entourage accompanying Clinton said India’s refusal to accept the end user agreement would be like a “slap in the face” and create “obstacles” in the path of enhancing the bilateral relationship. Despite misgivings about how obtrusive the verification procedure would be, the Indian government okayed the agreement.

She accepted Indian concerns about terrorism coming from Pakistan, but chose to maintain that the government in Islamabad had shown “more commitment” to fight terrorism in the last six months and chastised what she called the “syndicate of terrorism and criminality,” all of which needed to be fought against. She claimed there would be no restrictions on transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) equipment for India’s nuclear programme and also claimed that the United States and India shared the same views on Iran’s nuclear programme. And as a final sop, she did not visit Islamabad on this trip and said the Indian Prime Minister would be the first state guest of the new Barack Obama administration.

Singh has been a state guest of the George W Bush administration, while Pakistan’s President was refused the symbolic gesture.

The visit also saw the coming together of some of the “power women” in the Indian establishment. Not only did Clinton meet Sonia Gandhi, the top US diplomat’s first official visit to India was also the first ‘coming out’ event for the new Indian foreign secretary designate, Nirupama Rao. Clinton was accompanied on most of her official engagements by Meera Shankar, India’s Ambassador to Washington and Gayatri Kumar, the joint secretary handling the Americas desk.