PEOPLE LET ME TELL YA 'BOUT MY BEST FRIEND…

Bush strides out to change the world with his new best friend (Gerard Baker, 2/27/06, Times of London)

American expectations are high for both legs of this trip, but especially for Mr Bush’s meetings with Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister.

“The President’s visit, at least to some extent, marks the transition from a 40-or-so-year painful bilateral history to the transformed relationship the two countries have today,” Robert Blackwill, a former US Ambassador to India, said last week.

The change in the relationship is reflected in that India is, according to recent surveys, the one place where the popularity of the US, if not its President, has risen in the past four years.

American officials cite many areas of common interest. As Mr Bush presses a pro-democracy agenda for the world, India is the world’s largest free nation. Economic growth in the sub-continent has been rapid, bringing trade and investment opportunities for both countries’ companies.

The two countries have shared interests in energy security and, of course, in confronting Islamist extremism. And, in the US at least, some long-term strategic thinkers see India — democratic, capitalist and, in large part, English-speaking — as a powerful ally and makeweight to China’s growing hegemony in Asia, although Indian officials, eager to stay on good terms with their large neighbour to the north, are keen to play down that aspect of the relationship.

Mr Bush and Mr Singh will discuss those issues, and India’s relations with Pakistan, where a fledgling peace process is under way over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

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