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Indo-US Nukes?

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI–America’s Democrats having gained control over the US Congress, India has chosen to play its diplomatic cards cautiously. Washington has gone a little overboard in trying to convince New Delhi that the electoral developments will not affect Indo-US ties.

Soon after it became clear that Democrats were in command, the US Ambassador to India, David C. Mulford, emphasized that this would not have any negative effect on Indo-US relations nor on the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.

“There is widespread bipartisan support for the Indo-US relations in general and the nuclear deal in particular. The Senate intends to address the issue in the ‘lame duck’ session… the prognosis is very good and there is consensus between Republicans and Democrats. It is a positive situation,” Mulford said while speaking to reporters here (November 9). The following day, the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Boucher, voiced confidence about the deal’s fate. “I am very hopeful. We are very hopeful. Democrats have said they are going to take it up in the lame duck session,” Boucher said.

Emphasizing that the deal’s importance, Boucher said: “President Bush has said that it’s a priority. Democrats have said it’s a priority. There has been a solid support for the specific legislation and the India-US relations in general.”

While emphasizing United States’ support for deal, however, they (Mulford and Boucher) said that it is hard to predict what would happen in the “lame-duck” session.

Admitting that even if the nuclear bill sails through the Senate, it will take some time before it can go to the White House for a final signature. On this, Mulford said: “It is purely a question of parliamentary procedures.” Besides, Boucher pointed out that “serious” negotiations have yet to begin on details of the deal. While expressing that the Bush administration remains committed to pushing the bill, he said that India, particularly the press here, should not start assuming details on it. “I would advise you not to start negotiating in the press on the agreement when we have not started negotiating in our own sessions. Don’t start writing clauses. We have not started writing clauses yet. We have not begun serious work on the text,” Boucher said.

In other words, irrespective of whether or not the deal sails through the Senate, India still needs to keep its fingers crossed regarding the final shape it actually takes.

Not depending on dame luck during the “lame duck” session, on their part, in Washington, Indian-American pressure groups and US lobbyists resumed full scale lobbying, convening meetings, conferences and seeking appointments with influential legislators to secure passage of the deal.

The US-India Business Council and other interest groups also resumed lobbying efforts. Indian-American Democrats, earlier in the shadows because of the greater role played by Indian-American Republicans, also joined the lobbying efforts. A Massachusetts Democrat, Ramesh Kapur, heading a five-state initiative to gather support for the deal, said: “For now we are all indians and none of us are chiefs. If this bill goes through, not just India but Indian-Americans will also benefit.”

India has also begun lobbying with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to secure its member nations’ support for the deal. While India made a presentation at a special session of the 45-nation group in Vienna last month, receiving “very good feedback,” India has also been taking up the matter with NSG members individually. India’s special envoy on the deal, Shyam Saran, recently visited Sweden, Norway and Ireland, the three nations which had earlier voiced reservations regarding the deal. “The response of all three countries was positive,” sources said. Saran will be visiting other NSG member countries also to explain India’s case.

As the nuclear deal, once finalized, is expected to enable India to have civil nuclear trade with international community after 32 years, the NSG is required to change its guidelines for international trade in the nuclear field to permit this. While lobbying to secure NSG nations’ support, India is focusing on convincing them about its responsible behavior and impeccable track record regarding non-proliferation, official sources said. Quite a few member nations, who earlier had reservations, have recently displayed favor for the deal. Brazil and South Africa have supported India’s quest for civil nuclear energy.

Irrespective of whatever is the fate of the nuclear deal in the US Congress and among the NSG nations, American nuclear suppliers seem eager to enhance trade with India. Their representatives are expected to be here later this month to explore possibilities of business.

On this, Mulford said: “A fairly large group of companies, many of which are in the nuclear supply and technology business, have elected to come to Delhi to see people here and pursue interests here.” Some would be visiting Chennai and some Bangalore also to explore business opportunities.

Representatives of US companies dealing in nuclear technology will be part of the largest-ever trade mission of over 200 firms visiting India. This will be the largest-ever trade mission to any country, Mulford said.


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