Dont mix Enron contract with its fatal problems: Blackwill

New Delhi, January 24: | Updated: Jan 25 2002, 05:30am hrs
Is Enron finally bad news enough for the Bush presidency Bad enough for his administration to stop seeing the companys failed contract in India as a five letter word in the Indo-US relationship

US ambassador Robert D Blackwill side-steps the first part, but his answer sets at rest any misplaced hope that the Enron ghost in India will miraculously disappear once the parent company drowns in troubles of its own creation.

To US investors, Enron represents the sanctity of contracts here in India. And there can be nothing more fatal to investors than a question mark on sanctity, Mr Blackwill told The Financial Express during a press interaction. On (coming) Monday, I will be making a serious economic speech (at the Indo-American Chamber), and my argument will be that these worries (on the sanctity of contracts) wont go away with Enrons fatal problems.

Giving context to his efforts at resolving the mess and impasse, the ambassador used the past tense. We did what we could to promote an equitable solution. We urged the various sides to do so quickly. We often repeated what we said, he remarked. This looked like arguing that these pleas werent about his administrations interest in any particular company, but more about what a dishonoured contract would mean to the investment climate in India.

Mr Blackwill then went on to confess his disappointment that Indo-US economic relations arent being able to match heightened cooperation on the politico-strategic side. If you look at the level of political exchanges, the level of military cooperation, the exchanges of information and intelligence...the Indo-US relationship appears unrecognisable from just an year ago. But sadly, where all this is not getting translated is in economic relations. Economic relations are trailing the field...they are lagging behind. Theres such promise, but most of it isnt been realised, he observed.

Then, as if to ensure that this tough message didnt get diluted, Mr Blackwill unapologetically expanded, There are only two things economic relations can do between nations. They can either be the winds (in the sails)..or they can be the anchor. In our case they are proving to be the anchor!

Five other messages emerged from Mr Blackwills press interaction. First, the US continues to describe the Indo-Pak eye ball to eye ball military deployment as dangerous, and something that can ignite at a mere spark.

Second, the US will pursue an extended engagement with South Asia and Central Asia, not in some episodic approach, that doesnt necessarily mean military bases. So, here was the ambassador taking care to keep the military option open, and committing only on an extended engagement on the politico-economic, and diplomatic fronts. Yes, oil (in the region) is an important dimension, Mr Blackwill candidly admitted.

Third, that the US is gung-ho on Pak president Pervez Musharrafs determination to set his house in order, and his commitment to US secretary of state Colin Powell that his country wont provide bases to terror networks. We have serious equities in Pakistan, Mr Blackwill said. Asked what support to Gen Musharraf meant in light of US stated commitments to seeing a democratic government in Pakistan, Mr Blackwill cryptically said, Our hope lies as a fundamental plank in our relationship with Pakistan.

Fourth, the US hasnt called this weeks killings outside the American Center in Kolkatta, as an attack against the local police (and not the US per se). We are looking very hard, we dont know the facts, and we havent ruled anything out, is what Mr Blackwill would say for now.

Fifth, that despite the presence of US spy satellites in the South Asian skies, the Americans have had no role to play in arm-twisting the Indian defence ministrys moves that have led a strike core army commander on the Indo-Pak front to seek personal leave. The widespread perception is that the lieutenant general placed his troops too close to the LOC, and the Americans picked that up through their satellites, and conveyed strong disapproval. Mr Blackwill strongly denied that the US did any such thing.