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U.S.- India Nuclear Deal Faces New Challenges

The Bush Administration introduced the landmark nuclear deal with India in July 2005. It would give India access to U.S. technology necessary to build the most advanced nuclear power plants. Analysts say the deal is also symbolic of a growing strategic partnership between the United States and India, one that could act as a counterweight to China’s rising global influence.

India’s communist parties say the treaty undermines India’s nuclear program by denying India’s right to conduct tests. The communists argue that this prohibition would make India strategically subservient to the United States. They add that India would lose a measure of independence in its foreign policy.

Surya Kumar, deputy editor of India’s English daily newspaper Pioneer, says the fears are baseless:“I don’t think our scientific establishments, people in our public life and in our bureaucracy, are out to “sell” India. I don’t believe that argument at all. I believe that a lot of responsible people head the government, and by and large, they must have worked out a deal which is good for India.”

London-based journalist Vijay Rana says some of the opposition to the deal in India stems from doubts about the United States dating back to the Cold War period when India was allied with the former Soviet Union.“The Indian opinion can be divided into two broad sections, says Dr. Rana.” One is the young India, the educated India, the high-tech India, rising and shining India. These younger people have no reservations as far as America is concerned, and they increasingly look forward to strengthening this relationship, which is based on economic ties largely. But then there is an older India, India of the cold war years, and these communists, in fact, largely survive on that part of public opinion.”

India’s opposition Bhartiya Janata Party, or B-J-P, also opposes the deal, even though the previous government, which was led by the B-J-P, laid the groundwork for cooperation between India and the United States. Experts say the B-J-P’s opposition is largely due to internal party politics, as well as to shortsightedness on the part of some B-J-P leaders. These politicians aspire to fresh elections that might result if the communists withdraw support from the Congress-led government over the nuclear deal.

The U-S Congress gave preliminary approval to the agreement in principle last year with the passage of a bill known as the Hyde Act. Despite this legislative success in the United States, Martin Schram, a journalist for the Scripps Howard News Service, is apprehensive about the agreement’s chances:

“The United States’ Congress has passed a bill which really says that India cannot have another nuclear test. That is part of the deal. And India can take the same position: our national sovereignty is at stake, our national pride, if you will, is at stake by allowing anyone to tell us what we can and we cannot do. So, if the two sides proceed on this path, we are just one last turn in the road away from the deal collapsing. That is what I think can happen.”

Under the agreement as it stands today, India retains the right to reprocess atomic fuel for energy generation—---a procedure which can also yield fissile material for weapons if not held in check.

Again, Martin Schram of Scripps Howard News Service: “I would like to see, since the deal has come this far, that it is implemented. I think that would be fine for both countries. I think it is vital that one way or another, India agrees not to have any more nuclear tests whether they say it publicly or not. But if they do hold one--that would be a deal breaker and that would be terrible. By the same token, the United States wants to test a new generation of nuclear weapons, too. And I think that is wrong too because if one is good for one country, is good for all countries.”

London-based journalist Vijay Rana says that opposition to the agreement exists in both countries. He notes that last week, there was a resolution introduced by U-S lawmakers who oppose the nuclear deal. He says India is an open society, a democracy. The debate taking place is part of a democratic political process: “There have been these historical baggages and little political road blocks that we will have to cross with political maturity, and I think America will have to show a great amount of understanding while waiting for India to resolve its own political contradictions.”

Under India’s constitution, the nuclear deal does not require Parliament's approval. Analysts say the communists may drop their opposition when they realize that even if the Congress Party-led coalition government falls, India will still have to stand by the deal.

After India’s approval, the agreement also needs to be approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Key Indian officials are hopeful that in tandem with their U-S counterparts, they will be able to persuade the Agency of the agreement’s merits. They also hope that the U.S. Congress will back the deal. If approved, the pact will reverse 30 years of a U.S. ban on nuclear trade with India. This program was written by Subhash Vohra. For International Press Club, I’m Carol Castiel.

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