Clock is ticking for India-US nuclear dealJune 13th, 2008 - 5:22 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, June 13 (IANS) The clock is ticking for the India-US civil nuclear deal, with one expert saying Friday that a final call on the controversial agreement awaits a “political decision”. “It is not a decision that is with the foreign ministry. It is simply a political decision,” K.C. Singh, former secretary (economic relations) in the external affairs ministry, told IANS.
Officials say the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government will have to decide within the next few weeks if it wants to go through with the nuclear deal during George W. Bush’s presidency.
“This government is not known to act fast. But if they have to act, it is now. The clock is ticking,” added India’s former ambassador to the US, Naresh Chandra.
A meeting between the UPA, led by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and leaders of Left parties that oppose the deal is scheduled for June 18.
The Left parties may allow the government to sign the “additional protocol” agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But that decision may come only later, perhaps before the next meeting of the IAEA board of governors in the third week of September.
By then it will be impossible for the government to sign the deal with the Bush presidency. The next US presidential election is due in November.
That the government still desires to go ahead with the deal, despite dire warnings from its Left allies, came from Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.
“We are moving towards a political consensus inch by inch. At some point we will arrive at that,” Kamal Nath, now in Washington to attend the US-India Global Partnership Summit, told American TV show host Charlie Rose.
He pointed out that this is what India did on the economic reforms. But it took that had taken India quite a few years to achieve.
A meeting on the sidelines of the G-8 meeting in Japan is likely between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Bush in early July.
A number of experts feel time is running out for India and the government will have to decide one way or the other about the deal.
The problem for the UPA government stems from its stand on the deal. On one hand, it has not hidden its keenness to go ahead arguing the agreement will end the “nuclear apartheid” the world imposed on India for decades.
On the other it has also been made clear that it is not ready to sacrifice the government over the deal.
The Left parties, on whose support the government rules India, fear the deal will firmly bring India into the strategic orbit of the US.
India has finalised an “additional protocol” agreement with the IAEA but has not signed it in the absence of a go ahead from the Left parties.
Once the agreement is signed, it will be placed before the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to get an “India-specific” exemption to its guideline, thus clearing the way for nuclear commerce between New Delhi and NSG member countries.
Once it passes through NSG, the US Congress will have to decide if it wants to give its nod to the 123 agreement to change its domestic laws to allow trade between US companies and India on civilian nuclear energy.
The “political decision” that just-retired K.C. Singh refers to is linked to when the UPA government wants to have the next general elections.
A string of defeats in state assembly elections coupled with steep rise in food prices has made the ruling coalition nervous.
“There are only two Indian prime ministers who had proposed elections,” political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan said.
“One was Indira Gandhi who brought it forward from 1972 and held them in 1971. She won. The other was Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had elections four months ahead of time and lost in 2004.”
According to Rangarajan, both examples will be studied carefully by the Congress leadership, particularly its president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi before a decision is taken either on the deal or on the time for the next elections.