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Think Again: India

Americans have a love affair with India, seduced by a colorful culture, one of the world’s great cuisines, and the sense that these two great democracies are a lot alike. In reality, however, the two countries have very little in common, and a lot that could pull them apart.

India and the United States are natural allies

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images The toast of New Delhi: President George W. Bush clinks glasses with A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a key player in the development of Indias nuclear weapons.

Not so fast. It was not until the collapse of its champion and friend, the Soviet Union, that Delhi saw reasons to improve ties dramatically with the United States. Recent mutual overtures to warm U.S.-Indian ties are still works in progress on both sides. Though the worlds most populous democracy seems to be increasingly in sync with free-market American thinking, Indias interests often conflict with those of the United States.

India and the United States are natural allies

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images The toast of New Delhi: President George W. Bush clinks glasses with A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a key player in the development of Indias nuclear weapons.

Not so fast. It was not until the collapse of its champion and friend, the Soviet Union, that Delhi saw reasons to improve ties dramatically with the United States. Recent mutual overtures to warm U.S.-Indian ties are still works in progress on both sides. Though the worlds most populous democracy seems to be increasingly in sync with free-market American thinking, Indias interests often conflict with those of the United States.

Consider Indias relationship with Iran. The energy-hungry subcontinent looks at Iran in the same way that the United States views Saudi Arabia. Iran and India reached a strategic partnership in 2003, cementing the historical ties between the two nations. India is now chafing at Western demands that it stop backing Irans right to develop its nuclear capacities. Despite a new American deal to share advanced nuclear technology with India, Delhi is likely to resist opening its own nuclear facilities to serious international inspection and remains steadfast in its refusal to sign major international arms-control agreements. A key player in the development of its nuclear weapons, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, is now the countrys president.

Barbara Crossette was United Nations bureau chief for the New York Times from 1994 to 2001. She is now a consulting editor at the United Nations Association of the United States.

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