Bush Heads for India, Pakistan Tuesday

President Bush begins a six-day trip to Pakistan and India Tuesday. Madeleine Brand talks with Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving about the atmosphere surrounding the president's visit.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, possible U.N. sanctions against Sudanese officials. A secret memo, now public, shows one man on the list is a key U.S. ally in fighting al-Qaida.

CHADWICK: First, the lead. In Washington today for President Bush a meeting with the National Governors Association. This is the annual get-together. The governors let the President know what's troubling them and how the federal government might help, especially with immigration and health care.

Then from Mr. Bush it's on to global issues of trade and terrorism. Tomorrow night he begins a six-day trip to Pakistan and India. NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving is with us. Ron, it's a delicate time for U.S. relations with these two countries.

RON ELVING reporting:

Indeed. It could hardly be more so, Alex. Pakistan, of course, is a critical ally in the war on terror, and it's under tremendous pressure right now. It is a Muslim country with a large militant movement.

And recently that movement has been energized by the Danish cartoons controversy, the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. And so President Bush is only going to spend probably just a matter of hours there in Islamabad, partly in deference to security concerns and also possibly because he's going to try to squeeze in a yet unannounced visit to Afghanistan while he's on that leg of the trip.

But the greater period of time on the ground will be spent in New Delhi, the capital of India, a nation of a billion people. Here the tensions have more to do with trade. The Indians want nuclear technology and fuel for their growing industry and they want to be less dependent on oil. And the U.S. has a problem with this because India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

CHADWICK: But you know, Ron, when you mention trade, for a lot of Americans India is synonymous with the word outsourcing.

ELVING: Yes. As it's become a great market potential for U.S. goods, it's also increasingly a competitive source of skilled workers. And one of the places the President is planning to go in India, if time allows, is the information technology center city of Hyderabad in Southern India.

CHADWICK: So this trip, the President schedules these things, what, a year in advance? At least months in advance. You can't tell when you put it on a schedule if it's going to turn out to be a good time or not. Is it? How's it gone?

ELVING: This is a good illustration of how hard that is to tell. Obviously the White House would have preferred that we not have had this cartoons crisis or the destruction of the Shiite shrine in Samarra last week that brought Iraq to the brink.

CHADWICK: Or all this stuff over the Dubai Ports World deal.

ELVING: Well, that's the least comfortable of all of the considerations. All they needed was a domestic controversy here in the United States that could be read as tinged with anti-Muslim sentiment.

But right now, at least with respect to the ports deal, they're breathing a little bit easier because they have a 45-day reprieve, in a sense. The company, Dubai Ports World, that's purchasing the rights to operate some terminals at these ports in the United States has asked itself to have a 45-day investigation of whether or not it provides any sort of security threat by doing so.

This is the investigation the Bush Administration had decided was not necessary back before the uproar began and before Congress got involved.

CHADWICK: Well, so 45 days, they're still going to come to a decision point. And what happens then?

ELVING: Presumably then the panel of agency heads and the administration that approved the deal in the first place will approve it again. And then the President will have to decide one way or the other.

So this puts the onus on him. He's going to have to make a direct decision. But the White House hopes that by then everyone will know more about the deal and everyone will be willing to accept it.

Of course, Congress can always weigh back in at that point and try to block it again if they haven't decided to accept it. It all depends on what we learn over the next several weeks about Dubai Ports World.

CHADWICK: And the political reaction to it. Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor following politics in Washington. Ron, thanks for being with us again.

ELVING: Thank you, Alex.

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