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India-US nuclear deal wavers

But the collaboration on the deal has contributed to improved relations between the two nations.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 24, 2007


A US-Indian accord on civilian nuclear cooperation, once hailed as one of the most significant foreign-policy achievements of the Bush presidency, is on the ropes and may die before it is ever approved.

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US officials are working with the government of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to keep the agreement alive despite intensifying political opposition in India – a country President Bush likes to refer to as the world's largest democracy. The setback comes at a particularly sensitive moment in US relations with South Asia, as the stability of neighboring Pakistan and the regime of US ally Gen. Pervez Musharraf appears to be increasingly in question.

The good news, most proponents and critics alike of the nuclear deal say, is that the improved relations between the United States and India that resulted from five years of intensive talks are likely to remain on an upward trajectory.

"India is a key and growing player on every issue that matters to Americans in the 21st century – whether it's terrorism or nuclear proliferation, spreading democracy, HIV/AIDS, climate change, or energy. So the logic behind improving US-Indian relations is compelling no matter who is in power in Washington," says Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who has advised three administrations on South Asian issues. "Even if the nuclear deal never goes through, other parts of a strategic partnership will move forward."

Political factors have probably put the deal into "hibernation," adds Mr. Riedel, who is now at the Brookings Institution in Washington. But he says the "logic" of strengthened US-Indian ties means it is likely to reemerge at some point and in some form.

For the best?

Other experts, in particular those from the nonproliferation community who had a dim view of the nuclear accord, say putting the controversial agreement aside may be the best outcome for US-India relations.

"Rather than the springboard the administration promised, this deal turned into a stumbling block on the road to a new partnership with India," says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington. "If this is in the deep freeze, maybe we can get to some of the other items on the bilateral agenda that the preoccupation with the nuclear deal pushed to the back of the queue." Among those items, he says, are trade, visas for qualified Indians, clean-coal technology, and "developing other ways of energy cooperation that make more sense."

The nuclear agreement, which was to pave the way for the US to provide India with nuclear fuel for a new generation of power plants, has come under intense attack from left-wing parties in India who fear a loss of sovereignty from closer ties with the US. Last week, Prime Minister Singh told Mr. Bush in a telephone conversation that the deal, which the White House had hoped India would approve by the end of the year, faced intensifying opposition.