May 25, 2020
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Clear Agenda

Has Joan Rohlfing been appointed to persuade India to sign the CTBT?

Clear Agenda

IT'S payback time. And Washington is set to submit its IoU for the support it showed India during Kargil. As a first step it announced that Joan Rohlfing—senior advisor for national security to US energy secretary Bill Richardson—will be on a six-month detail at the US embassy in New Delhi, beginning September 1. Her brief: to support ambassador Richard Celeste on non-proliferation issues, a field she has worked in for the last 12 years. For the moment the US seems to have decided that mediation is a dirty word. Right now its priority is non-proliferation issues, especially in getting India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

This is an interesting development considering that Rohlfing will arrive in Delhi in the midst of elections and a month before the CTBT conference begins in Vienna. The conference will look at ways to persuade recalcitrant nations to sign and ratify the CTBT. It'll essentially be considering how to bring it into force. Only those who have signed the treaty so far can attend the conference. Since India hasn't, it won't participate.

Could Rohlfing's task then be to create an atmosphere whereby India honours the promise made by external affairs minister Jas-want Singh to deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, in January that India would sign the CTBT by June or July? The fall of the government and the howl of protest from the opposition parties against signing the treaty delayed that decision. In any case the decision will have to be taken by the new government which takes over in October. By then the Vienna conference may have found ways to persuade reluctant nations to sign the treaty. Alternatively, Rohlfing could work towards an arrangement whereby India agrees to sign some months later, to enable President Bill Clinton to visit India since he would have something tangible to show. Indian officials, however, are underplaying the significance of Rohlfing's posting. For them she is like any other US official posted to their embassy here. But the Americans are obviously not sending her for a picnic to New Delhi. They clearly have some agenda.

According to a diplomatic source in Washington, the fact that Rohlfing has been appointed for six months adds a "new dimension of time to the debate" on whether India would join the CTBT and "raises the expectation that the US may be hoping India will have signed within that period".

Of course, US officials say India needn't worry. Asked whether she had a special mandate to negotiate on the CTBT or other issues, Karl Inderfurth said: "New Delhi has nothing to fear from Ms Rohlfing! She certainly doesn't have a 'special mandate' to negotiate on CTBT or any other topic. She is, quite simply, an expert on energy and nuclear matters, including nonproliferation, issues of common concern and interest to both our countries. She's being assigned to our embassy in New Delhi for a few months to provide expertise at the spe-cific request of ambassador Celeste. It is quite common for embassies around the world to have temporary staff for short periods to assist them on particular issues." Rohlfing herself sounded upbeat. Asked about her new assignment, she told Outlook: "I'm honoured and excited to have been selected to serve in this assignment. This is an important time in our relationship with India and I'm looking forward to supporting ambassador Celeste on non-proliferation matters."

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