60. Telegram From the Embassy in India to the Department of State1

1326. Subject: India’s Perceptions of Its Relations With the US.

Summary: Almost a year ago, the Indian Government began a modest effort to improve US-India relations both by quelling anti-US allegations and better taking into account U.S. concerns on certain international issues. More recently, senior Indian officials have appealed for better communications between the two governments. In response, the Charge in recent weeks has had a series of conversations with senior Indian officials concerning their views of US-Indian relations. These officials have without exception shown a desire for improved relations and, when questioned, expressed dissatisfaction with past ties. Such dissatisfaction has usually been expressed in terms [Page 151] of what they have seen as the failure of the US properly to “understand” India, that is, to understand either the Indian Emergency or India’s regional interests in South Asia. Our discussions have revealed that Indian suspicions remain strong that the US has in some way been acting against India’s interests in South Asia. Our conversations also reveal continued Indian sensitivity that the USG does not consider India “important”; to this has been added an Indian rationale for importance: India’s role in maintaining South Asian stability and in building bridges between North and South in the dialogue between the developed and underdeveloped world. We conclude from these conversations that Indian suspicions of the US remain strong and are not likely to be altered easily. In regard to an Indian role in the North-South dialogue, we recommend that the USG develop a more specific bilateral economic dialogue with the GOI on issues of importance to us. Finally, we believe that general statements of policy regarding South Asia can be helpful in gaining greater confidence in our relations, but that they should be firmly grounded in the realities of our [omission in the original] improve relations with the US. The steps it has [omission in the original] have been modest but significant and they have been in response to positions set forth by the United States. We told the Indians the US would not be used as a political scapegoat and our relations could not prosper so long as we were accused of interfering in Indian affairs. Those accusations ceased almost a year ago. We asked the Indians to take into account US concerns regarding Puerto Rico and Korea at Colombo.2 They did so, entering reservations on both resolutions. Indian officials from the Prime Minister down have shown great cordiality to Americans and have urged us to step up our communications. This Indian initiative is modest. Mrs. Gandhi still makes vague references to foreign interference and Indian positions on international issues—such as Law of the Sea and mass media—give us severe problems. But the fact is the GOI, for the [omission in the original] has come to us on its own initiative to seek better relations.

2. In response to India’s suggestions that we improve communications and in an effort to probe for Indian attitudes toward the relationship they wish to strengthen, the Charge has in recent weeks had a series of conversations with a group of senior Indian officials who have [omission in the original] relations; Professor P.N. Dhar, Secretary to the Prime Minister; G.P. Parthasarathi, head of the Ministry of External Affairs Policy Planning Council with the rank of Minister of State and Jagat Mehta, Foreign Secretary of the Government of India. Added to this was a conversation at which the Charge was present, between [Page 152] Congressman Solarz and Mrs. Gandhi in early December.3 This telegram summarizes certain views on US-India relations expressed by these officials.

3. All of our conversations have revealed an Indian desire for better relations. Since Indian efforts began long before the US elections, they are not related only to the new administration, although, at present, there is a sense of anticipation within the GOI that the prospects for a favorable US response have improved with the change in Washington. All of our conversations have also revealed a dissatisfaction with past US-India relations and it is these expressions of dissatisfaction which have been most revealing about Indian attitudes. During the past year Indian officials have deliberately been more restrained in the expression of views such as these; in this case we have sought their views and they have given them fully but carefully. The Department will recognize much that is familiar and only a little that is new.

4. Most Indians we have talked to have asked for a “better US understanding of India;” their meaning has varied somewhat but followed a general theme. Mrs. Gandhi spoke to Congressman Solarz about a lack of understanding in the US of “India’s difficulties” (i.e., the emergency). Her comment was her first and most vigorous response to Congressman Solarz’ question as to what the United States could do for India and it followed a 45-minute soliloquy on why the emergency was necessary. Thus she placed her first priority on US acceptance of her regime.

5. The theme that the US somehow does not understand India has emerged with surprising consistency in our other conversations. While, as in the case of Mrs. Gandhi, this has sometimes related to internal developments in India, more often it has concerned India’s regional interests. Thus P.N. Dhar spoke of inadequate US understanding of India’s interest in South Asian stability and the measures which India must take to preserve that stability. G.P. Parthasarathi spoke of the need for a better US understanding of India’s interest in the region. For his part, Mehta argued that if US-India relations were to be good the US should accept the practice of the resolution through bilateral negotiations of the problems of South Asian nations. In several of our conversations Indian officials (e.g. Dhar and Mehta) have alluded directly or indirectly to their suspicions that in some way the US has been acting against Indian interests in their relations with India’s neighbors. For his part, Parthasarathi implied that the US had resiled from [Page 153] the US position on South Asia which Dr. Kissinger had set forth during his visit to India in Oct. of 1974. Dr. Kissinger had said that India had “a special role of leadership in South Asian affairs” and that “the US strongly supports the efforts of peaceful settlement on the subcontinent free of imposition or pressure or outside interference.”4

6. Another common view of US-India relations, which we have heard more than once from P.N. Dhar, is that the US attaches little importance to India. In our conversations, Indian leaders have argued that India’s role in both regional and world affairs should be of interest to the US. In the region Indian officials here have argued that the steps India takes in South Asia are designed to contribute to regional stability, and therefore should serve US interests. On the global scene, Foreign Secretary Mehta argued forcefully that the Indian role in the North-South dialogue should be of interest to the US. Mehta said that India had a strong interest in cooperative resolutions to North-South problems. He described India as a partly developed country which, because it is an exporter of manufactured goods and importer of commodities had some interests in common with the developed world. Mehta argued that India is therefore qualified to play a bridge-building role between the developed and underdeveloped world and asked if this was not of interest to the US. Other Indian officials have dealt with this subject more cautiously, Dhar simply citing difficulties India has had with the OPEC countries in the North-South dialogue and Parthasarathi making it clear that while India is a “partly developed country” and “moderate” nation which is interested in a cooperative outcome of the dialogue, it must strictly pursue its own interests within the Group of 77.5

7. Most of our conversations have revealed that the Indians are aware that there are certain issues which may cause problems in our relations. Parthasarathi, for example, took the initiative to raise the issue of human rights, saying that a deliberate policy of relaxation was in effect, that a number of political prisoners had been released and that more would be released. (The elections were announced after this conversation took place.) The others—Dhar, Mehta and Mrs. Gandhi herself have limited themselves to defenses of the Emergency, ranging from Mrs. Gandhi’s highly political argument that she had to declare the Emergency in order to maintain rational government to Mehta’s intellectual statement about the balance between the political and economic needs of the nation. There also is recognition that nuclear policy will be an early problem. Parthasarathi commented that failure to work [Page 154] out the Tarapur problem would be “a bad sign” in regard to US-India relations.6 We have, however, received no indication just how seriously the GOI would view a possible cut off of US nuclear fuel for Tarapur. We have also discussed (at our initiative) the subject of arms transfers in the area and this led directly to discussions of the proposal to sell A–7s to Pakistan in the context of Pakistani plans to obtain a nuclear reprocessing facility.7 Only Parthasarathi interrelated A–7s and the reprocessing facility in his reply; he expressed the view that the sale of arms would not prevent Pakistan from obtaining a reprocessing capability if this was what Pakistan wanted. The result would be Pakistan’s obtaining both A–7s and the facility. We pointed out in our discussions that India’s posture of opposing almost all major arms sales to Pakistan lacks conviction in view of the depleted state of Pakistani armaments and India’s clear superiority. When we mentioned a possible arms limitation agreement with Pakistan, both Mehta and Dhar recalled that this had already been discussed with Pakistan twice. Mehta said once the Pakistani elections8 (and now, the Indian elections) had been completed India could speak to Bhutto again on this subject.

8. Comment: The comments which we have received from all sides about the lack of US understanding of India indicate that Indian doubts and suspicions about US policies and activities in South Asia remain unchanged. As the Department is aware, Mrs. Gandhi has for many years harbored suspicions that we oppose her regime and in some way have been engaging in activities directed against it. She has continued to harbor these views despite categorical assurances which she has received from both Ambassadors Moynihan and Saxbe and Secretary Kissinger. The declaration of the Emergency and the reaction to it of the US press and Congress has reinforced Mrs. Gandhi’s feelings that the US does not accept her government. Public and private expressions of US interference in India have ceased because we made it clear that US-India relations could not be satisfactory so long as they continued. [Page 155] This does not mean, however, that Mrs. Gandhi no longer has doubts about us. In fact, the single thing Mrs. Gandhi would most like from the USG is probably an explicit indication that we accept her regime. It is not clear, however, that Mrs. Gandhi could effectively define exactly what she means by US “acceptance” of her regime. She and other Indians sometimes seem to interpret an opposition to Indian policies or actions and lack of understanding of Indian concerns and interests in the region of the subcontinent as “non-acceptance.”

9. Suspicions that US policies in regard to India’s neighbors are in some way designed to undermine India’s interests also have a long history well known to the Department. That they remain is clear from our dialogue of recent weeks. Again Indian perceptions contrast sharply with reality as, with the exception of 1971, virtually all concrete US actions since 1965 have supported India’s interests in South Asia. India’s present day concerns seem more related to their perceptions of what we may be about to do rather than our past actions. Some of this may be tactics to keep us from changing our policies. When one probes, however, he finds deep suspicions which seem to have more than a tactical foundation.

10. We have perhaps contributed to this condition by occasional proposals or actions which seem to the GOI to be inconsistent with our stated policy such as our proposal to sell A–7s and our tactical maneuvering on the Farakka issue in New York (which caused the Indians to believe we were encouraging Bangladesh to move its resolution).9 But the fact is that the GOI has been slow to recognize change in US policies and in the objective situation in South Asia. We have discussed this with the Foreign Secretary who on an intellectual plane attributes it to the slowness of governments to appreciate new international environments but who nevertheless continues to reflect his government’s suspicions based upon earlier US policies. We therefore doubt that this condition can be easily or rapidly altered.

11. We find Foreign Secretary Mehta’s remarks about India’s role in the North-South dialogue of interest but they have that Indian quality of vagueness which frequently admits inconsistencies between declaration and action. We find a more realistic basis for judging India’s role in the North-South dialogue in Parthasarathi’s statement that, while India is a moderate and has an interest in cooperative solutions, India will pursue its own interests within the Group of 77. Indeed, we under [Page 156] stand that India has in fact played a moderate role and as a result has on occasion been helpful to the US. We believe, therefore, that rather than rejecting Mehta’s rationale we should try to make our bilateral dialogue with him and other Indian officials on international economic issues more specific. We should monitor Indian performance and discuss particular issues with senior Indian officials in Delhi. We have had some success with such a dialogue on political issues (Puerto Rico and Korea). In doing this, we should make sure that the notoriously uncoordinated GOI is aware at high levels of the effect of positions on economic issues taken by its negotiators at international conferences on US interests.

12. We conclude from our recent conversations that the Indians are quite sincere in their efforts to improve their relations with the US; it is clear that they would welcome a friendly and sympathetic statement of the view of the new administration regarding US relations with India. In considering how we might respond to the Indian initiative, we should, however, recognize that there are both difficult issues and a long history of distrust which may stand in the way of improvement. Sometimes in the past US statements of sympathy and appreciation have created exaggerated expectations in the minds of Indian officials. We believe that general statements of policy in regard to India can contribute to greater confidence in our relations but consider that such statements should be firmly grounded in the realities of our relations and our positions on issues between us which must be resolved. Such a course, we believe will best lead to the stable mature relationship which we have talked about for so long but thus far failed to achieve.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D77031–1003. Confidential; Exdis.
  2. The Non-Aligned Movement held a summit meeting at Colombo August 16–19, 1976.
  3. Telegram 17522 from New Delhi, December 6, 1976, reported on Solarz’s December 2, 1976, discussion with Gandhi, during which Gandhi defended her decision to declare the Emergency in 1975. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760450–1291)
  4. For the records of Kissinger’s October 1974 discussions in New Delhi, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–8, Documents on South Asia, 1973–1976, Documents 179182.
  5. The G–77, a coalition of 77 developing UN member states, was founded in 1964 to promote the economic interests of its members.
  6. By the terms of a 1963 agreement between the United States and India, the U.S.-built Tarapur nuclear power station was supplied with enriched uranium from the United States for the anticipated 30-year lifespan of its two reactors. In return, India agreed to purchase fuel only from the United States, placed Tarapur under IAEA safeguards, and did not reprocess spent fuel unless both signatories agreed under the Joint Determination clause. Since India’s 1974 test of a nuclear explosive, the shipments of uranium from the United States to India were delayed. Telegram 14844 to New Delhi and Bombay, January 22, reported India’s January 21 aide-mémoire, which informed the Department that in order to maintain Tarapur’s output of electricity, nuclear fuel needed to arrive in India by February. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P820081–1623, D770024–0458) See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–8, Documents on South Asia, 1973–1976, Document 237.
  7. See Document 232.
  8. See Document 234.
  9. See footnote 5, Document 33. In November 1976, Bangladesh submitted a draft resolution to the UNGA Special Political Committee calling for an immediate resolution of the dispute regarding the Farakka Barrage and diversion of the Ganges waters. Pakistan withdrew the resolution after consultations between Bangladesh and India. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1976, pp. 208–210.