US hopes to draw India into a `more balanced nonalignment'

Essentially, it's been a get-acquainted visit. But through a combination of quiet diplomatic reassurances and promises of expanded trade, United States officials have used the occasion of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's first state visit this week to draw India into a ``more balanced nonalign- ment,'' as one senior administration official describes it.

Diplomatic efforts to ease strained US-Indian relations have been reinforced by a number of recent movies and television specials that ``have left many Americans feeling good about India,'' says a State Department official.

US officials say they have no illusions about the limits of accommodation with India. Mr. Gandhi's visit to Moscow last month was a reaffirmation of India's primary relationship with the Soviet Union.

Still, this week's visit has left a trace of optimism about the future of US-Indian relations.

``There's an enormous change in the traditional view of India here,'' says one expert on US-Indian relations. ``The US now takes India's fears and strategic interests more to heart.'' At the same time, ``Rajiv may be the person who can best respond,'' says this expert. ``He has less paranoia about India than his mother [former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi]. That may allow Rajiv to distance himself more from Moscow.''

In an Oval Office meeting Wednesday, President Reagan assured Gandhi -- apparently with mixed success -- that the current six-year, $3.2 billion US military aid program to Pakistan is designed to shore up Pakistan against possible threats from neighboring Afghanistan, now occupied by more than 100,000 Soviet troops. Officials say the aid package has not altered the military balance in the Asian subcontinent, which heavily favors India.

Mr. Reagan also reconfirmed US opposition to Pakistan's reported efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Finally, the President provided assurances of US support for Indian national unity, which is being challenged by a Sikh separatist movement. In welcoming remarks at the White House Wednesday, the President told Gandhi the US ``remains steadfastly dedicated to India's unity, and we firmly oppose those who would undermine it.''

In return, the President encouraged India to take a more active role in helping to end the Soviet Union's five-year occupation of Afghanistan. So far India has been reluctant to jeopardize relations with Moscow by taking a strong public stand on Afghanistan. In an address to a joint session of Congress yesterday, Gandhi remained noncommital, saying only that India is ``opposed to both foreign presences and pressures.''

In addition to diplomacy, the US sought to wean India from the Soviet Union with expanded trade ties. Two years ago, the US became India's largest trading partner. The US would like to build on that relationship by supplying the high-technology goods that India needs for rapid industrialization -- but cannot obtain from the Soviet Union.

US and Indian officials this week discussed the sale of both civilian and military technology to India. They say the sale could be the prelude to a significantly increased US-Indian trade relationship in the future.

On Thursday, Gandhi inaugurated a two-year festival of Indian arts and culture, which one senior administration official describes as the ``largest single cultural-exchange program ever.''

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