Yesterday there was a small but very public disagreement between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh:
[T]he clash between developed and developing countries over climate change intruded on the high-profile photo opportunity midway through Clinton's three-day tour of India. Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh complained about U.S. pressure to cut a worldwide deal, and Clinton countered that the Obama administration's push for a binding agreement would not sacrifice India's economic growth.
As dozens of cameras recorded the scene, Ramesh declared that India would not commit to a deal that would require it to meet targets to reduce emissions. "It is not true that India is running away from mitigation," he said. But "India's position, let me be clear, is that we are simply not in the position to take legally binding emissions targets."
"No one wants to in any way stall or undermine the economic growth that is necessary to lift millions more out of poverty," Clinton responded. "We also believe that there is a way to eradicate poverty and develop sustainability that will lower significantly the carbon footprint."
Both sides appeared to be playing to the Indian audience, with Ramesh taking the opportunity to reinforce India's bottom line.
Now, on the one hand, I'm shocked, shocked that the great powers have some disagreement over global warming. And it should be noted that the rest of Clinton's India trip seems to have gone pretty well.
That said, I'm also not surprised that the Indians are acting surly towards the Americans. India did quite well uner the Bush administration on several dimensions. On the security front, India and U.S. interests converged on anti-terrorism and nonproliferation. On the economic front, the Bush administration refrained from criticizing the offshore outsourcing phenomenon that helped boost India's growth.
The Obama administration has not been hostile towards India, but I think they have taken the state of bilateral relations for granted. They've also committed a series of small blunders that riled New Delhi. This began with the attempt to have special envoy Richard Holbrooke's remit include India, and includes the administration's appointment of Ellen Tauscher to be the new Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (Tauscher led the fight against the India nuclear accord in the House).
It looks like Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be the first foreign dignitary to be the guest of President Obama for a state, so it's not like relations with New Delhi are being significantly downgraded. Still, I'd expect little flare-ups like the one between Ramesh and Clinton to occur from time to time -- and it's not just about atmospherics.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.