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

9926. For Deputy Secretary Christopher from Ambassador Goheen. Subj: US-India Relations.

1. Roy Atherton has suggested that when settled in I should put down some overall impressions of the state of play here and ideas for future initiatives. This cable attempts to do that. I particularly hope that it may be helpful to you as you prepare for your stop here.2 These observations are based on conversations I have had with Prime Minister Desai, every member of his new government, but one, and the various civil servants with whom I have been doing business.

2. There can be no doubt that the interest of the Desai government in good relations with the US is genuine. The restoration of democratic government and an equitable rule of law here is a matter of deep pride. It carries with it feelings of affinity toward the USA, while the high value which the Carter administration attaches to human rights is likewise highly congenial here now. Also appreciated is our recognition of India both as the major South Asian power and as a leader, generally on the side of moderation, among the non-aligned nations. The President’s initiatives with respect to arms control, a nuclear test ban, and demilitarization of the Indian Ocean have been regarded favorably—although the apparent downgrading of the last in the recent Moscow talks3 and extensive news coverage of the neutron bomb4 have clouded the picture. Another important link, I believe, is the strong parallelism [Page 201] in our and the GOI’s sense of what the priorities in India’s development efforts should be.

3. At the same time, however, there appear to remain certain reservations, or at least a hesitancy about possibly committing India too far or too fast in our direction. Partly this comes about from the need to retain good relations with the USSR, coupled to India’s realization that the Soviets have been its consistent supporters, while our record is much more erratic. The apparent reserve also arises at least in part, I believe, out of continuing divisions and differences in point of view within the Janata Party—differences which have to some extent been patched over on the surface but seem not yet to have been basically resolved—as, for example, on the matter of a resumption of US bilateral aid. Desai’s global perspective and his Gandhian point of view are not universally shared. We suspect that even within the Cabinet there are hawks as well as doves on the nuclear issue, and there are clearly some whose economic views are more collectivist than Western in orientation, while others value the private sector and seem eager for a resumption of US aid and technical assistance.

4. Of the Prime Minister’s good faith and goodwill I have no question at all. He has been extremely friendly toward me in both my meetings with him. He feels that he and President Carter are on the same wave length. The time recently accorded the White House Fellows by the Prime Minister and other top officials is another indication of the desire to be more open toward the US and to cultivate more two-way understanding.

5. In Foreign Minister Vajpayee, however, I sense a greater reserve toward us than in most of the Cabinet members with whom I have met. I cannot tell how deeply this reserve may reach. It may be no more than a mannerism in dealing with foreigners, or it may simply reflect a sense of limited experience in international affairs. Certainly in his various statements of national policy, including responses to slanted questions in the Lok Sabha,5 Vajpayee has been trying to steer the country on a course of “genuine non-alignment” and also to establish India as a constructive, bridging influence with respect to North-South issues. It remains of course to be seen how these Janata lines of policy will be implemented vis-a-vis particular issues and as time goes on. When in the opposition, Vajpayee was a quite parochial nationalist and all for India’s development of atomic weapons. But since he has had to assume responsibilities in the union government, he has adopted [Page 202] a much broader, more internationally attuned stance. We have no real reason to be suspicious of his moderation or even-handedness, despite the air of reserve noted above.

6. What might we be doing that we aren’t to build on the goodwill, reduce the suspicion or reserve, and create strong and more durable relationships? Generally I think our current posture is about right. I understand it to entail strong approval of the restoration of civil liberties and democratic government in India; respect for India’s status as a regional power and leader among the non-aligned; a manifest readiness to be supportive and helpful, when and as India wants our help, coupled with recognition that modern India possesses very considerable scientific, technological, and industrial competence in its own right; and, finally, a deliberate effort not to let ourselves slip into becoming either patronizing, or discriminatory, or overly intrusive in our dealings with India. If we can make our specific actions be, in fact, expressions of such a stance, I have no doubt that increasingly close relations with us will be sought by the GOI and that our chances of reaching viable accommodations will be enhanced where our national interests seem to differ. We should not, of course, expect that India will do this at the cost of the benefits it obtains from its relations with the Soviets.

7. Several specific propositions seem to me to grow out of these general observations. First, the size and composition of the Embassy appears about right to nurture the gradually growing political, economic and cultural relationships that we should be seeking.

8. Our policy with respect to bilateral aid should continue to be one of readiness, not of impatience, to begin negotiations when the Indians wish. I assume the GOI will come to that decision. When it does, to start small as we are planning (at about $60 million) but to plan to step up the levels significantly in each of the following two years (perhaps into the range of $100–150 million for FY ’79 and $100 million more for FY ’80) seems to be appropriate strategy. Such gradualism should let us hold down any too great increases in the US presence and draw to the maximum extent on India’s own expertise. (The Indian Finance Ministry, it should be noted, regards $60 million as a very small start, and I feel it would be a mistake to be too hesitant about getting our aid up to more substantial levels once we have made a satisfactory start.)

9. One of the best ways of recognizing and taking advantage of India’s again open society, in ways which are of mutual benefit, is to step up educational and cultural exchange, including many areas of science. The current government has expressed an interest in this. The resource limitations on our side are embarrassing. I hope the Department can make strong efforts to increase substantially the support [Page 203] available for activities under the Indo-US Subcommissions for Education and Culture and Science and Technology.6

10. With our interest in channeling US development assistance to the neediest and the heightened emphasis which the Indian Government proposes to put on rural development, we should be considering how agriculture and rural development can best be given heightened attention under the aegis of the Joint Commission. The cooperative, equal partnership aspects of the Joint Commission might give our aid style here a healthy new look. Perhaps bilateral aid for the purposes mentioned should become a major topic of the Economic and Commercial Subcommission, while technical assistance and seminars aimed at rural education, agricultural education, and other rural technologies might be made priority concerns for each of the other two subcommissions as well.

11. The Carter administration’s policy of consultation in advance with the Indian Government on multilateral issues is distinctly to the good. In conveying respect for India’s status and views, it reduces latent suspicions, and it should be carried out whenever possible.

12. High-level intergovernmental contact is important to the relationship we seek. The possibilities currently on the stove are of a good level and scale for ’77. Thus, though only for a day, the prospect of your own visit here is very welcome to the GOI as well as to us. We hope that Vajpayee’s wish to visit Washington at the time of the UNGA can be accommodated, but we attach even more importance to securing a Vance visit to New Delhi during 1977. Anticipated keenly also is the possibility of a congressional visit this winter in response to the interest expressed by leaders of the Indian Parliament. For 1978 we urge that consideration be given to a visit here by the President or by Mrs Rosalynn Carter and that an invitation also be extended to Prime Minister Desai to visit Washington.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770249–0451. Confidential; Exidis.
  2. En route from Europe to New Zealand, where he attended the ANZUS conference, Christopher stopped in New Delhi on July 23 and met with Vajpayee and other Indian officials. At the meeting, Christopher spoke broadly about U.S. foreign policy objectives, while Vajpayee outlined India’s regional relationships. (Telegram 10426 from New Delhi, July 23; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770263–1089)
  3. The first round of U.S.-Soviet talks on demilitarization of the Indian Ocean was held in Moscow June 22–27. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XVIII, Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula, Document 108.
  4. On July 7, the New York Times reported that “President Carter will decide whether to recommend production of neutron weapons, which are designed to kill by radiation rather than heat and blast, Jody Powell, the White House press secretary, said today.” Despite arguments that the production and deployment of the neutron bomb would hamper U.S.-Soviet efforts to negotiate a strategic arms limitation treaty, “Mr. Powell said that the neutron arms being considered would be tactical rather than strategic in nature. When asked if a neutron warhead could be mounted on a strategic missile, he replied, ‛If you wanted to put a peanut on a trailer.’” (“Decision on Neutron Arms Output Likely in August, Carter Aide Says,” New York Times, July 7, 1977, p. 10)
  5. Telegram 9343 from New Delhi, June 30, summarized Vajpayee’s June 29 address to the Lok Sabha. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770233–1113) Further analysis of the address was transmitted in telegram 9414 from New Delhi, July 1. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770236–0501)
  6. The Indo-U.S. Joint Commission was established in October 1974. Telegram 15519 from New Delhi, November 2, 1974, summarized the Commission’s purpose as overseeing “the work of three Subcommissions: Education/Culture; Science/Technology; Economic/Commercial; which in turn meet annually to exchange views on bilateral and multilateral issues within these three broad areas of interest. The objective is to mobilize the two bureaucracies toward progress on these issues while isolating them to the extent possible from the political relationship.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770403–0481) The Joint Commission first met in Washington in October 1975. For the statements by Kissinger and Indian Foreign Secretary Chavan and the joint communiqué issued at the conclusion of the meeting, see the Department of State Bulletin, October 27, 1975, pp. 620–622.