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Hillary in India: How not to win friends or influence allies?


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton watches a performance during an Anti-Human Trafficking event in Kolkata May 6, 2012. Clinton landed in India with hopes of reinvigorating a relationship seen as losing steam despite efforts to bring the world's two largest democracies closer.

There wasn't much of substance in the public statements made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her visit to India this week. But unless something dramatically different transpired behind closed doors, it's unlikely that she improved the tenor of the ballyhooed Indo-US "strategic partnership."

The transcript of the joint press conference held by Clinton and India's foreign minister SM Krishna on Tuesday can make it sound like New Delhi and Washington are on the same page. But chat with insiders here and you get the feeling that Hillary's audience was none too impressed.

From the India perspective, Clinton's browbeating on Iran sounds like an egregious double-standard, for instance. Clinton harped on the possible apocalyptic results of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons as though a strike on Israel would be inevitable. And she used the attempted assassination of an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi earlier this year to make the case that Iran is a terrorist state.

Meanwhile, though she made the obligatory references to what Pakistan "must" do to combat terrorism and emphasized the US desire to prosecute alleged Lashkar-e-Toiba head Hafiz Saeed, to Indians that juxtaposition only served as a reminder that Washington has never made as strong claims about Pakistan as it's now making about Tehran -- despite 20-odd years of attacks launched against India.

So is India a bad ally?  Not at all. But Washington should give up expecting the same kind of across-the-board compliance that it gets from its "strategic partner" that it gets from allies like Japan and South Korea, for the simple reason that it doesn't provide the same bullet-proof security umbrella for New Delhi that it does for Seoul and Tokyo.

And that means India has to hedge its bets on Iran, just as it does on China and Pakistan.