N-deal may not pass, but India can turn to others: Washington Post

July 9th, 2008 - 8:38 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Arun Kumar
Washington, July 9 (IANS) Despite clearing a key hurdle, the India-US civil nuclear deal may still not win final approval in the US Congress this year, but New Delhi can begin nuclear trade with other countries even without it, according to a US daily. The Bush administration’s signature deal “appears unlikely to win final approval in the US Congress this year, raising the possibility that India could begin nuclear trade with other countries even without” it, the Washington Post said Wednesday, citing administration officials and congressional aides.

Taking note of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s success in negotiating an agreement with the Samajwadi Party to ward off the threat to his coalition government from the Leftist withdrawal of support, the daily pointed to several remaining hurdles in its way.

For one, the Hyde Act passed in 2006 that gave preliminary approval to the US-India agreement, requires that the Congress be in 30 days of continuous session to consider it.

The Post cited congressional aides as saying that clock can begin to tick only once India clears two more hurdles - completing an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and securing approval from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which governs nuclear trade.

Because of the long August recess, less than 40 days are left in the session before Congress adjourns Sep 26. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also repeatedly insisted there will be no lame-duck session after the Nov 4 elections, the daily noted.

Thus with the near impossibility of congressional passage by year-end, officials and experts have begun to focus on the possibility that other countries - such as France and Russia - would rush in to make nuclear sales to India while US companies still face legal restrictions, the Post said.

“India doesn’t need the US deal at all” once the NSG grants approval, it cited Sharon Squassoni, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as saying. “It was a fatal flaw in the logic of the US Congress.”

The Post said a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing congressional strategy, agreed. “I don’t believe there is anything to prevent them from doing that, if we don’t ratify it,” he said, noting the irony of the US not profiting from a deal it set in motion.

But, the Post said he suggested the administration would use that awkward situation to pressure the Congress not to thwart potential business opportunities for American companies.

“It is the hidden force of this agreement,” the official said. “It is US business that sees an opportunity.”

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