Economic issues seen as having dominated Clinton visit

April 7, 2000
By Larry Pressler

Coincidences! How they can change our lives. My trip to India as a member of President Clinton's business group is a classic example.

On Friday, March 10, 2000, I was playing golf at the Army-Navy Club in Virginia with my good friend, Sen. John Warner (Republican of Virginia.) Most painfully, at about 5.30 p.m., I had to depart early, as I had a speech to deliver Friday night.

On the golf cart on the way back to the clubhouse I encountered President Clinton, who was playing a few holes behind us. Although of opposite parties, Bill and I have been friends for nearly 30 years, having met in Rhodes Scholar activities when I was at Oxford just a couple of years ahead of him.

I told the president I really appreciated his upcoming trip to India. He replied that he knew I went to India frequently on business; that he knew of my United States Senate work on Asia and that he hoped I would join in his meetings in India.

The following week, the White House staff contacted me and I was off to some of the most fascinating business meetings throughout India. I say fascinating, as they stretched from Delhi to Mumbai to Hyderabad, and they dealt with my favorite subject... closer business and trade ties between India and the U.S. The president did a great job of leading these meetings.

President Clinton, Prime Minister Vajpayee and Sen Larry Pressler meet in New Delhi in March 2000.

I have been in disagreement with the Clinton administration's virtual repeal of the 1984 "Pressler Amendment" which limited nuclear weapons building in Pakistan. And I had publicly urged him not to go to Pakistan.

In spite of this, the president did me the honor of noting my presence during one of his speaches in New Delhi. I may sound self-serving, but having devoted nearly 25 years working to get India on the same basis as China and trade, I felt very moved by the kind gesture.

I attended all the speeches President Clinton gave during his visit there. It is awesome to watch the president of the U.S. in a foreign country, because of the extensive security and the esteem he is held in as the most powerful man in the world. In New Delhi, he spoke eloquently on political issues; in Hyderabad, he talked of high-tech and more business cooperation between the two countries, and at the stock exchange in Mumbai he spoke of the need for more person-to-person communications among all people to improve the human condition.

He did a terrific job and he managed to look fresh even on the last day of his trip. At the end of each of his speeches, he would shake hands with as many people as possible sometimes spending up to an hour shaking hands. He was effusive, friendly, energetic and could not have done a better job of conveying to the Indians that we want to be closer. Hopefully, his visit will signal the end to the cold war rhetoric that went on for so long and still lingers slightly. However, before we reach too many euphoric conclusions about the president's visit, we must also look at hard policy results. Past visits of presidents to India have not resulted in very many concrete results.

Few policy changes occurred. Nixon made a brief stopover in 1969 and President Carter came to India in 1978. Lyndon Johnson had visited as vice president in 1961. Perhaps the most electrifying of all visitors was Jacqueline Kennedy in 1969, who spent nine days as a guest of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. And now to his credit, Clinton becomes the first president to visit in a long time in 2000.

What are the results of these visits? Well, first of all, they help the two countries understand each other and bring us closer together. In terms of big policy changes directly resulting from the trips, there have been few. President Clinton's visit was excellent but bitter disappointment could set in if the expectations are too high.

Clinton made a special trip to Hyderabad, which is a leading software exporting center. In fact the leading complex of buildings there is called "Hitec City." The local chief minister (the same as the governor of one of our states), Chandrababu Naidu, first gave a slide presentation on how a lot of software from India is being exported to the U.S. Then the president took the podium and told the assembled businessmen that the information trade could be as great as any commercial trade between nations in history and that both sides must loosen regulations.

A few hours later, the president flew to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and spoke at the stock exchange there. Assembled were all the titans of Indian industry, the heads of the great Indian trading houses, the industrialists, and even a smattering of "young entrepreneurs." Clinton had individual meetings with 15 "young entrepreneurs" and sat down to talk privately with another group of leading industrialists. But when the time for his speech to the general group arrived at the main stock exchange building, the president talked about people-to-people feelings and diplomacy.

For the first time during the trip he looked tired and did not address economic issues in his speech to this assembly of businessmen. But he still came across as very warm and caring.

Since returning home, I have been somewhat disappointed in the press coverage of the presidents trip there. The Washington Post led with a story regarding the president landing in Pakistan with a decoy plane, and much of the substance of how Gen. Pervez Musharraf is operating as a complete dictator was lost. I do hope the business publications in our country, will take up what an excellent effort our president has made to end the cold war rhetoric between India and the U.S., and I hope they emphasize that the thrust of President Clinton's visit was more trade and commerce between the U.S. and India.

As a Republican, I want to applaud our president for making an energetic effort toward trade in a difficult region of the world. I hope and pray that we will have much better results, and peace will come to that area of the world so that India's new prosperity and new opportunities in business will not be lost to an unfortunate nuclear encounter with Pakistan.