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Iran Debate Strains U.S.-India Relations

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, the drive for consensus is hurting relations between the U.S. and India.

PHILIP REEVES: Yet now relations have hit a rough patch. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday held his second major press conference since taking office. He found himself on the defensive over relations with Washington.

MANMOHAN SINGH: The basic objective of our foreign policy, as well as our domestic policy, is to promote our enlightened national interests. We have not acted under any type of pressures.

REEVES: Indians from a wide cross-section of politics saw the ambassador's remarks as an attempt by the U.S. to coerce New Delhi into toeing the line. The remarks went down badly with many Indians nostalgic for the days when India was the champion of non-alignment. Some on the left began demanding the ambassador's recall. The Hindu, one of India's most respected newspapers, called on the Indian government to reject what it called the American fatwa. Siddharth Varadarajan (ph) is deputy editor.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN: I think it seriously compromised the government of India, which was quite amenable to going along with the U.S. on Iran. But by linking the two and in a sense holding out a threat of blackmail, allowed the left and the rights in this country to come together and point fingers at what they say is growing U.S. interference in India's foreign policy. And I think this is a charge which the government is sensitive about.

REEVES: The U.S. officials deny Washington was trying to strong arm India. After returning from a visit to New Delhi, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns emphasized that it's up to India to decide how it votes.

NICHOLAS BURNS: India is one of the great countries of the world. It's a sovereign country. It's obviously going to act in its own national interest. It'll make decisions as all of the countries do based on its national interest and I think we all have to respect that.

AKBAR: What does India see itself as?

REEVES: That's M.J. Akbar, Editor-in-Chief of the Asian Age Newspaper. He believes the proposed nuclear deal with the U.S. is part of an attempt by Washington to restrict India's nuclear program. And he says this, coupled with the Ambassador's remarks, poses questions about India's true place in the world.

AKBAR: Does India have the ability to stand up, or is India going to be manipulated? A lot of Indians don't want India to be manipulated. I mean I certainly am one. I believe we have the right to claim a place in the world as a rational, responsible, and mature nuclear power and a nuclear military power.

REEVES: After China and Russia agreed to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, India's vote has become less important. That's a relief for President Bush. He's due to visit India next month. There'll be more enthusiastic talk from both sides about their improving ties.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC IN RESTAURANT)

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