Strobe Talbott’s CFR talk

Out-of-office understanding

Strobe Talbott’s talk at the Council on Foreign Relations was titled Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy and the Bomb.

The transcript and video of the talk (and the Q&A session) is available (thanks Vijay Dandapani) and makes very interesting reading. Among other things Talbott agrees that the United States went overboard when it ‘gratuitously’ pinned the ‘major non-NATO ally’ status on an unsuspecting Musharraf, and risks doing greater damage to US-India relations if it goes ahead with the sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan.

I agree, if I understood your last point with an implied criticism of the Bush administration, on one very specific point, but it happens to be a very neuralgic one, and that is the decision of the Bush administration to grant so-called major non-NATO allied status to Pakistan. I think that that was gratuitous. I can’t imagine that General Musharraf had ever heard of those initials [laughter] kind of came up with them and included them on a wish list. And the fact that it was done, of course, raised all of the bugaboos in India about the U.S. tilt… And I think that, on top of the release of the fighters–the F-16s and so forth and so on–was more than was necessary, and there will be a lot of repair work required.

And by the way, if I remember correctly–Steve you were covering this, I think; in fact, I think you were the–yours was one of the first stories that identified this–Secretary Powell was in Delhi before flying to Islamabad and never told the Indians even that he was going to do this.

WEISMAN: Yes.

TALBOTT: That was a mistake, but I would treat that more as an exception–more as an aberration than part of the pattern.

WEISMAN: It was all the more puzzling because afterwards even the American officials were unable to say what it meant to be a major non-NATO ally.

TALBOTT: It means to–

WEISMAN: We were mystified.

TALBOTT: What it means is to be Pakistan. [Laughter.]

WEISMAN: [Laughter.] We thought maybe they would put a sign at the airport saying, “Welcome to Pakistan, a major non-NATO ally.” [Laughter.][CFR]

Another thing Talbott points out is the fact the the international media tends to overlook the fact that, contrary to frequent rhetorical comparisons, the Kashmir issue is not at all like the Palestinian one.

There had been a cliché that I may have perpetrated back when I worked for Time magazine, that Kashmir was kind of the equivalent in degree of difficulty of the Middle East conflict, the Arab-Israeli conflict. I became convinced, working on it very hard, that that is not the case. It’s actually much easier for me to imagine a solution to the Kashmir issue than it is the Arab-Israeli conflict. Among other things, there’s no equivalent of the Jerusalem issue. There’s no occupied territory, at least not in the same sense as on the West Bank and Gaza, and so forth and so on. But that, too, is another lunch. [CFR]

One thought on “Strobe Talbott’s CFR talk”

  1. There is one similarity with the Arab-Israeli conflict – that is with the mind set of India’s antagonist – that of a terrorist. While Israel dealt with an individual who was not a nationalist but a terrorist, India deals with an institution that is essentially a terrorist one – the Pakistani military, their protestations and 180 post 9/11 notwithstanding. Army leaderships (while in the Army) are incapable of making peace – the sooner Indian policy makers realize that the better. the best hope is to continue the process but give virtually nothing during that, all the while advancing an economic agenda that accrues to the benefit of the Indian people (kashmiris included)

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