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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Washington this week for a four-day state visit to discuss a range of issues crucial to the developing strategic partnership between the United States and India. The U.S.-India partnership is critical to President Barack Obama’s national security agenda on climate change, economic growth, and nuclear proliferation. There’s also the question of how the United States can balance efforts to deepen bilateral ties while simultaneously working to normalize the tense relations between India and its neighbor, Pakistan, as the one-year anniversary of the Mumbai terrorist attacks approaches.
The Indian leader’s trip marks the first official state visit of the Obama administration, with a ceremonial welcome and a black-tie dinner later today. That the Obama administration chose India as the first country to receive the honor of a state visit is not surprising given the country’s importance to several Obama administration national security priorities. Major topics of discussion between the two teams will likely include climate change cooperation in advance of international talks next month at Copenhagen, growing economic ties between India and the United States and the ongoing global economic crisis, and the careful balance of nuclear proliferation cooperation with a desire to make good on the 2008 civil nuclear trade deal.
Prime Minister Singh’s visit comes during a sensitive period for U.S. diplomacy around the world. The luster is wearing off from the Obama administration’s initial honeymoon period of foreign policy, leading to growing questions about what the Obama administration has tangibly achieved with its new style of diplomatic outreach. President Obama’s trip to Asia last week raised some concerns in India that the United States was acceding to China’s growing power without demonstrating India’s important role, and this state visit is aimed at signaling the importance of U.S.-India ties. Gaining India’s cooperation on a range of issues will be an important test of the Obama administration’s ability to achieve results in his foreign policy.
The trip also comes at a critical juncture for U.S. policymaking in the South Asian region, as President Obama decides on a new strategy for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the Pakistani government’s position becomes increasingly precarious in the face of internal political and militant opposition. All of this takes place against the backdrop of the upcoming one-year anniversary of the November 26, 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, which killed 172 people and set Indo-Pakistani relations on a precarious edge that continues today.
U.S. policymakers and their counterparts in the region face a major challenge as they attempt to shape forward-looking regional and bilateral policies while anticipating and guarding against threats by spoiler groups seeking to derail progress toward achieving those goals.
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Colin Cookman is the Special Assistant for National Security at American Progress and Brian Katulis is a Senior Fellow. To speak with Brian Katulis, please contact Suzi Emmerling at 202-481-8224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.