Sanctions May Be Lifted During Indian Officials's Visit to U.S.

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - American sanctions imposed on India after it tested nuclear devices in 1998 could be lifted next month, when Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh makes a three-day visit to Washington, analysts here predicted Monday.

Singh, who also holds the defense portfolio, is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other senior Pentagon officials.

"The Bush administration is keen on expanding ties with India, and the announcement of lifting of sanctions could not be ruled out," said Sunil Jha, a foreign policy analyst with Jawaharlal Nehru University.

After meeting Powell last week, India's newly appointed ambassador to Washington, Lalit Mansingh, said he learned that the broader issue of U.S. sanctions was being reviewed.

"The secretary of state clearly reiterated the policy of President Bush to build on the good work done in the past and expand relations with India," Mansingh said. "Powell said he himself was committed to this process."

India's foreign ministry spokesman said the April talks would encompass "the whole range of bilateral relations."

Issues to be discussed include regional security concerns, the strengthening of economic ties, the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir, and nuclear non-proliferation issues, he added.

"Unlike the Clinton administration, the new administration will focus attention on India as a growing economy in the region and its strategic importance to counterbalance China," Jha said.

The United States is India's largest trading partner.

Although economic ties between New Delhi and Washington vastly improved during the Clinton era, the former president also made much of the Kashmir territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, the nuclear capabilities of the two South Asian neighbors, and his administration's desire that they sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Following India's shock nuclear tests in May 1998, Clinton designated Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott as a special envoy to discuss nuclear issues with New Delhi.

Singh and Talbott subsequently conducted 10 rounds of talks.

Indications from Washington now suggest the CTBT is not a high priority for the Bush administration. India's inability to reach the political consensus necessary to sign the treaty is unlikely to cause concerns.

Prem Singh, a foreign policy analyst with Delhi University, noted that Singh would meet with top-level American officials.

"The high level of officials lined up for meeting are an indication of the U.S. seriousness in dealing with India," he said, noting that meetings during the previous administration were generally held at a deputy secretary of state level.

"They should go some way in clearing up misunderstanding created by earlier statements from the Bush administration - Rumsfeld clubbing India with 'rogue' nation states like North Korea and Iran, and the U.S. objecting to Russian nuclear supplies to India."

Bush said in a recent speech that the 21st century "will see democratic India's arrival as a force in the world."

"India is now debating its future and its strategic path, and the U.S. must pay it more attention," he said. "We should establish more trade and investment with India as it open to the world. And we should, with Indian government, ensure it is a force for stability and security in Asia."

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Powell admitted having given little thought to India during the Cold War. "But now it's all opened up, and it is the soon-to-be-largest country by population on the face of the earth, and it is a powerful country and it is a nuclear armed country. And so I think we have to engage more broadly with India."

Formal ties between the world's most powerful democracy and its most populous democracy were established in 1941, six years before India won independence from Britain in 1947.