In India, we believe in reincarnation. So it seems that the nuclear deal has found new life again after being throttled to death. This deal was supposed to be a triumph of Indian diplomacy and of lobbying by the Non-Resident Indian community. It would mean the symbolic acceptance of India as a member of the Nuclear Powers club – a rather parochial institution.
The deal assures that the US provides India nuclear fuel and allow for similar supplies from other nuclear suppliers to further India’s civilian nuclear program as long as IAEA safeguards are respected by India. Ok, all this is known. We also know how this has been opposed by Leftists in India, who threatened to bring down the UPA government and almost scuttled the deal. Now, perhaps due to the public fury generated by the Nandigram incidents, the Left has given its green signal to the deal albeit with silly caveats.
India’s Department of Atomic Energy is now negotiating with the IAEA for India-specific safeguards. Now the Left wants that post the negotiations, a report on the the list of IAEA safeguards agreed upon by India be submitted to a parliamentary committee led by them after which they will give the green signal. Since when have members of our polity become experts on nuclear security? Exactly what is accomplished by this roadblock except face-saving for the Left.
I recently spoke to a key US negotiator for the 123 agreement and I found him a worried man. Will the deal go ahead, he asked me given the political pressures in India? After all, he had spent months cobbling the agreement together along with India’s top diplomats such as Indian ambassador to US, Ronen Sen and Indian ambassador to Singapore, S.Jaishankar apart from officials of the US’ AEC and India’s Department of Atomic Energy. I told the Negotiator that the deal will go ahead, all the while hoping the Indian political system proves me right.
In this conversation, arose the question of the resurrection of the Iran-Pak-India pipeline – a key concern issue for US. In fact, when India agreed to can the deal in 2005 and vote against Iran in the UN, most had called it “US arm twisting”. The truth I believe was different. India most probably obtained an assurance for the nuclear deal in exchange for that crucial vote.
The Negotiator said, “Well, Indians say the Iran pipeline wont go ahead, but we see something else in the papers”. I told him to wait till the nuclear deal goes through in India. Indeed, India would not pursue the Iran pipeline if its energy interests are assured. Currently, India consumes 5.6 million barrels of oil a day, and is thus the world’s fourth largest energy consumer and the Iran pipeline is at best an interim solution. The nuclear deal forms the only real way out of India’s energy conundrum.
But politics trouble the US side as well. Post the Indian approval, Bush has to push the bill through the Congress. And that will be no mean task. At least two Democrat experts on non-proliferation tell me this deal is a loss for the US and that they will oppose it tooth and nail unless its content is changed. Only a Presidential veto by Bush can save it, as is being expected here. The nuclear deal might actually become Bush’s finest foreign policy achievement.