Time is running out for the proposed India-US civilian nuclear agreement. That’s the message that the US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher has been pushing during his two-day visit to India. But the Indian government is having a tough time trying to convince its leftist allies that the deal is a good thing for the country.
US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher
The breakthrough India-US civilian nuclear deal, known as the 123 Agreement, which came into being in 2006, would allow the US to export nuclear technology and materials to India after a three-decade ban.
But it can only become operational after India reaches a country-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IEAE).
The deal must also be approved by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, which would have to amend its rules to include India.
Currently, nuclear materials’ trade is not allowed with India because it has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
As soon as possible
US Assistant Secretary of State Boucher says if the safeguards agreement with the IEAE is not clinched soon, the deal will not be ratified by the US Congress before the end of July when the United States enters full election mode and George W Bush’s presidency starts winding down.
However, the Indian government is still having a tough time finding agreement to the deal at home. It says it needs to develop its nuclear energy infrastructure to meet increasing energy demands.
But the government’s leftist partners think the deal will have a negative impact on India’s strategic sovereignty. They have threatened to withdraw their crucial support from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government if the deal goes through in its current form.
One of their main fears, which is shared by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, is that the Hyde Act -- a piece of US legislation, which enables the pact with India -- will negatively affect India’s rights.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that changes in Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines to enable nuclear trade with India will have to conform to the Hyde Act norms.
The Indian government, however, has insisted India is not bound to the Hyde Act in its campaign to convince its political allies to agree to the deal.
Broad political consensus
On Monday, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told parliament that the government had stepped up efforts to find a broad political consensus.
He also insisted the Hyde Act would have no bearing over the 123 Agreement: “India’s rights and obligations on civilian nuclear cooperation with the US arise only from the 123 Agreement that we have agreed upon.”
The left bloc however refuses to believe that the Hyde Act will not have an impact on India. It has warned of serious consequences if the civilian nuclear deal is operationalised.
The government presented a populist budget last week. Some experts think this is a sign it is preparing itself for an early election if the leftist parties do decide to withdraw their support.