N-deal nod ‘highly significant’, say experts

October 2nd, 2008 - 12:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Oct 2 (IANS) The final nod from the US Congress on the 123 agreement that will allow commerce on civil nuclear energy between India and the US brought about cheer, but also a word of caution, from Indian commentators and foreign policy experts.While most felt it was a “political development” of high significance, they refrained from gushing about it openly until a careful study of the fine print of the agreement.

“It is a highly significant political development. There was a need for the ‘Numero Uno’ country in the world to give the note of approval,” said K. Santhanam, former defence adviser to the government.

“The countries that would like to do nuclear commerce with India would seeover their shoulders at what Uncle Sam (the US) is doing,” Santhanam told IANS.

But former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal was more cautious about the agreement that was passed by the US Congress.

“We have to see what the final form of the agreement is, as the riders - as reported in the media - are cause for concern. They undercut the Indian government’s position,” Sibal said.

“If there are objectionable caveats, then it will be awkward.”

P.R. Chari of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies also showed the same kind of caution.

“This is a very important development, but I would like to caution against optimism, till we see the fine print,” Chari said.

He pointed out that both the US Senate and the House of Representatives had introduced caveats while introducing the 123 agreement for approval.

Chari added: “I am fairly certain it won’t be unconditional.”

After the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) granted India the waiver on Sep 6, there was nothing that “technically’ prevented New Delhi from entering into nuclear commerce with other countries.

But for the Manmohan Singh government, getting the final approval from the US to the nuke deal - one of the most controversial agreements that India has entered into with any country - was politically significant.

The US had taken the initiative in getting consensus both at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to get India the safeguards agreement and later the waiver from the NSG.

With the US Congress giving its final nod to the 123 agreement, the course is now clear for the two countries to enter into civil nuclear commerce. But experts are not sure what kind of business it would yield for the US companies.

“The prospects of nuclear commerce with US was dim,” Santhanam said.

He argued that the US had not built a nuclear reactor for the last three decades and its technology was not at par with that of France or Russia’s. Moreover, its human resource in this field was also limited.

“It will take the US five to 10 years to catch up with the rest of the world,” he added.

But Sibal felt US companies would have to be given a fair share in the Indian civil nuclear energy market.

“If US companies do not find business in India, then it will be a bone of contention,” Sibal said.

“After all, US is the prime mover. If at the end of the process, they do not get any share, it will be awkward.”

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