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At the last supper, Professor Manmohan lends a calming touch

Harish Khare

WASHINGTON: It was the last supper Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will have at the White House, at least with President George Bush playing the host. It was last Thursday, and it also happened to be the day when the American President had fiscal emergency very much on his menu. The two presidential candidates, John McCain and Barak Obama, were at the White House the same afternoon, helping Mr. Bush sort out the looming fiscal mess.

Dr. Singh was not sure whether the dinner engagement would not be an imposition in this crisis situation. National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan sounded out his counter-part, Steve Headley, if the American hosts wanted to wriggle out of the evening appointment.

“No need for any change in programme,” came back the presidential decision. The dinner was on.

Apparently the American president needed the “calming” presence of the Indian Prime Minister in this hour of economic disaster.

And, Mr. Bush pretty much said that in so many words: “I cannot think of another person in the world to spend an evening with.” Or words to that effect.

The prime ministerial aides in attendance thought the President meant every word. It was a very relaxed evening, with both Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Rice in attendance, among others.

And, when the two leaders began talking about the global situations, they found themselves “on the same wave-length” on the problems in the region, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Prime Minister was in a professional mood, according to one aide. Dr. Singh gave his understanding of China, South-East Asia, terrorism, and nuclear energy. Mr. Bush was in a listening mood.

The stalemate in the Doha Round of trade talks was discussed. The importance of protecting the interests of the “marginal farmers” was stressed. It was agreed that the officials from the two sides would meet again, to make yet another attempt to close the gap between the Indian and U.S. positions.

There was a congruence of perceptions. To the satisfaction of the Indian side, “no demands were made” nor was there any attempt made “to impose ideas and concepts.”

The Prime Minister was assured that the Bush team was doing everything possible to help expedite the Congressional process of endorsing the India-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement.

Centrality of the strategic relationship was reiterated and, more importantly, President Bush promised to brief the transition team (of the winning presidential candidate) on the importance of India to the American grand strategic thinking.

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