The Bush administration backed US-India Nuclear deal has been a diplomatic rollercoaster. On March 6th, 2006 President Bush announced the US India nuclear deal and pushed Congress to pass the legislation last summer, to only see the deal stalled owing to Indian objections. Now in the twilight of his presidency, the President is pushing for its approval.
But can a now unpopular, lame duck President seal this controversial deal?
Congress passed last summer a bundle of legislative changes allowing America cooperate with India on nuclear issues. While the changes do not amount to an official recognition of India’s non-NPT sanctioned nuclear weapons program, it gives it de facto recognition.
Bush has now unveiled a slightly reworked deal with India, forcing Congress to reconsider the matter—but with one critical change: Democrats now control Congress.
Advocates of the deal point to its realism—it deals with India’s status as a nuclear power—and hope it will foster a strong partnership between two strong democracies.
But critics view the plan as rewarding India for bad behavior, thereby encouraging other countries to develop nuclear weapons. Critics also point to an apparent double-standard: America is encouraging India’s reprocessing facilities while demanding Iran—who claims to be merely developing its civilian nuclear power—stop all nuclear repossessing.
So what’s next for this proposal? Under Secretary of State R. Nicolas Burns lays out the future hurdles succinctly in this recent interview with the CFR:
Two things have to happen before it goes back for a final vote in Congress. First, India has to conclude a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, which I expect will happen in the next thirty to thirty-five days. Secondly, the Indians will need to convince the nuclear suppliers group—this is the group of forty-five nuclear energy powers in the world—that it should give the same kind of international treatment in terms of civil nuclear trade to India that the United States would have just given bilaterally. Once those two steps are taken, then perhaps by November or December we’ll be ready to formally send this agreement to Capitol Hill for a final vote. We hope that vote will mirror the Hyde Act vote which was, of course, an overwhelming vote in favor of India and the United States by Congress.
In India the BJP opposition party has come out against the new deal. While not able to stop Indian approval, the BJP resistance could sap public support for the deal. The Hindustan Times reports on the party’s objections:
The inspections that India would be subject to and the conditions imposed on it under the agreement would be equivalent to those applicable to non-nuclear weapons nations, both he and Shourie stated. For these reasons, the BJP had consistently opposed the deal and former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had expressed his reservations on the issue even in 2005 with regard to its impact on India’s strategic nuclear programme, they added.
Expressing BJP’s objections to the provisions of the agreement, they said since each party was required to implement the agreement in accordance with its national laws and regulations, there was no doubt that India would be governed by the provisions of the Hyde Act of 2006 and the US Atomic Energy Act, 1954.
Sinha found US commitment on fuel supplies “vague and futuristic”. Besides, as the US would, under the provisions of the deal, retain the right of end-use verification of all its supplies, it would ensure that American inspectors would roam around all Indian nuclear installations, he felt.
And the NGS negotiations may hit a Beijing road block. Ravni gives a good backdrop the coming negotiations, painting China as the critical player:
India has already received broad support from Russia, Britain and France. India’s cooperation and growing engagement with Brazil and South Africa under the IBSA framework has also lead these countries to support India’s use of civilian nuclear technology. Australia [Note: Australia previously opposed to deal], too, seems to have veered around to supporting India’s right to civilian nuclear technology. In the past the NSG has always worked on a consensus and Indian interlocutors will hope to achieve this consensus in their favour. Here the position taken by China will be of great importance to India.
DNA views China as opposing the deal:
China has emerged as a source of concern as India begins the next stage of negotiations for implementation of the nuclear deal. According to a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the government is disturbed by reports of a quiet Chinese effort to block India’s bid for an unconditional waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for participation in international nuclear trade.
All this seems to only lead to the same murky conclusion: The fate of the US-India nuclear deal, clouded in doubt for over a year, is still uncertain.