Under a cloud

Is the Indo-US nuclear deal coming unstuck?

Published: Sunday 15 January 2006

the much trumpeted nuclear deal between India and the us recently hit its first roadblock. On December 6, 2005, chairperson of the us Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, Dick Lugar, warned that the Congress would reject any 'opaque' plans of the Bush administration to forge civilian nuclear cooperation with India. He was speaking at a Washington gathering of Indian policymakers and business leaders on the us -India strategic dialogue.

Earlier in July this year, the us president had signed a deal with the visiting Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, giving India access to civilian nuclear energy technology, though India is not a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (npt).

But this was done on condition that India first separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes and place its nuclear reactors for International Atomic Energy Agency's (iaea) inspection. us law states the deal must be approved by the Congress.

"The Bush administration has been very clear in its discussions with the Indian government about its expectations that any Indian plan will have to pass muster with the us Congress," Republican senator Lugar said. He clarified that this should not be viewed as a threat "but as a political challenge that must be met".

An "opaque and incomprehensible" Indian separation plan would only raise concerns about India's intentions, Lugar warned. He suggested that the Indian government think in maximalist terms and include as many facilities as possible within the scope of the civilian declaration. Anything less, he felt, would only delay consideration of this initiative by the us Congress and by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Or worse, it could result in unfavourable action by one or both bodies.

Lugar wanted the separation plan to be "credible, transparent and defensible" from a non-proliferation standpoint. It should ensure that the us -India civil nuclear cooperation does not in any way assist India in manufacturing nuclear weapons, he said. This is consistent with us obligations under the npt and with the us law, he added.

The us Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Christina Rocca, also agreed that their were many questions in the Congress but she was also optimistic about the deal going through. It is expected that a legislation will come up by early 2006.

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