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India Deal Could Sour U.S. Relations with Pakistan


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

President Bush has concluded his visit to India and is now in neighboring Pakistan, where he'll meet with President Pervez Musharraf tomorrow. Musharraf has cooperated closely in the fight against terrorism, and that will be a key topic of discussion. But the newly announced agreement to provide U.S. civilian nuclear technology to India will also be an issue. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, and they're rivals. Joining us now to discuss the president's trip is NPR's Philip Reeves in New Delhi. And, Philip, let's start with the president's trip to India and what official reaction has been there.

PHILIP REEVES: Well, in government circles and in the English language media and among the intelligentsia, the mood's euphoric. You know, you get the feeling that they see this as the single measurable moment in which India is anointed as a global force. Mr. Bush spoke to that today. He said that, you know, the suspicion and hostility that characterized India's relationship with the U.S. during the Cold War, those days were over. And this seems to have gone down very well. He talked about a partnership that can transform the world. I heard Mr. Bush's speech being called sincere, even intimate, and he was described by some as charming.

Now, I think a large part of this is the nuclear deal that has just been struck between India and the U.S. Many of that group in India see that deal as a great triumph. It's not in the bag. It still requires the U.S. Congress to approve it, and it needs the approval also of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Indians never liked being shut out of the nuclear club after developing their own nuclear arsenal outside the non-proliferation system. They see this new agreement as an end to their pariah status, and it allows them to expand their nuclear power generating capacity and leave their nuclear weapons program intact so they can go on developing it. So there is a very positive mood, and that's played into the euphoric mood about the visit by Mr. Bush.

BLOCK: At the same time, it hasn't all been roses. There were large and noisy demonstrations against the president's trip.

REEVES: Well, this is the diversity of this country. I mean, there was an entirely different view of this visit being taken on the streets of India. Hundreds of thousands of people over the last few days have protested against Mr. Bush's visits. These protests were dominated by Muslims, by Communists, by assorted social activists representing farmers and other political groups, many of them who represent the, you know, the hundreds of millions of Indians in the lower rungs of society, for whom this nuclear deal is extremely remote, who live on a couple of dollars a day or less. Opposition to the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq was a constant theme among them, particularly among the Muslims.

There were lots of these protests. To be honest with you, the English language media in India played them down, buried in page 16, 17 of the newspapers. Today in Lucknow a demonstration turned violent. Four people were reportedly killed. There've been huge crowds in Delhi and Bombay, Hyderabad. So this was an entirely different world, which saw the Bush visit in an entirely different light.

BLOCK: And now the president has moved on to Pakistan, and, notably, there was an explosion in Karachi yesterday that killed a U.S. diplomat.

REEVES: Yes, and I think that fact is going to overshadow, to a great extent, this visit by Mr. Bush to Pakistan. The death of a U.S. diplomat so close to the, cannot but have a big impact. But, of course, it was going, it's going to be a difficult trip for larger geopolitical reasons. Pakistan always feels very uncomfortable whenever it sees the United States drawing closer to India.

Mr. Bush tried to address this in a speech just before he left New Delhi. He said that Pakistan was an important partner and a friend of the U.S. and, of course, an important ally in the war on terror. But I think Pakistanis will be looking for more reassurance, and perhaps we'll see that. I don't know, but perhaps we'll see that in the form of aid for victims of the earthquake that caused such devastation in that country a few months ago.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Philip Reeves, talking with us from New Delhi. Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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