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U.S., India To Work On Relations At G-20 Summit


President Obama's high profile meetings at the G-20 summit in London this week include talks tomorrow with the prime minister of India. India and the U.S. are important allies, and this meeting will be a study in contrast - the American president in his 40s, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a seasoned leader in his 70s. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES: In a couple of weeks, voting will begin in India's general elections. It'll go on for almost a month, and it'll determine the fate of Manmohan Singh. As Indians debate whether Singh deserves to keep his job, Singh's supporters point to one achievement in particular: the creation of a new strategic relationship between India and the United States, built on a pivotal deal over nuclear technology.

Siddharth Varadarajan, associate editor of The Hindu, says that makes tomorrow's meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh particularly significant.

Mr. SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN (Associate Editor, The Hindu): The Indian side, I think they'll be looking to gauge how committed President Obama is to continuing the policy of strategy partnership that Bush began with India. So I think from that point of view, this is important.

REEVES: One subject seems certain to arise. Singh will want to know more about President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, countries which India considers the wellspring of regional instability and violent Islamist extremism.

India's still fuming over the massive assault on its commercial capital of Mumbai, an attack it blames on a Pakistani militant group that it suspects has links with Pakistani intelligence.

It's uneasy about Mr. Obama's plan to give Pakistan more money and arms, and he wants the U.S. to ensure this extra aid is, as promised, conditional on a genuine crackdown by Pakistan on militant networks.

The summit's key issue is the world economy. India, like everyone else, will press the urgent need for it to get going again. Suman Bery, head of the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi, says that requires action on several fronts.

Mr. SUMAN BERY (Director, National Council of Applied Economic Research): One is they clean up the American banking system, and the second is to kind of limit the moves towards protection that already seem to be accumulating, both in the U.S. and Europe.

REEVES: This issue of protectionism particularly concerns India. India's credit flows and export earnings have been badly hit by the global downturn. It's worried one of the side effects of the bailouts received by American and European banks is that they'll now direct credit to their domestic economies and not to emerging markets.

Kapil Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary, says there are several other examples of protectionism: the withdrawal, for example, of tax benefits from companies that outsource to India.

Mr. KAPIL SIBAL (Former Indian Foreign Secretary): While everybody has agreed in general terms that protectionist tendencies should be resisted, one is also conscious of the fact that countries, when faced with problems of unemployment, etcetera, etcetera, for political reasons are not able to abide by the principals (unintelligible).

REEVES: India and others now want an overhaul of the global financial architecture, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. And, says Siddharth Varadarajan, India also wants more say.

Mr. VARADARAJAN: You have a number of institutions who have taken up the responsibility of global financial governments. And the point that India's making is that with the rising weight of countries like India, China, you cannot expect to run the world economy on the basis of governance structures that are 50 years old. That has to change.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News. 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.