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India's Singh Seeks Support for Nuclear Deal

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is desperately trying to salvage a nuclear deal with the United States that would give his country access to nuclear fuel and technology for its power plants, despite its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Mr. Singh says although there is some political opposition in India to the deal, he hopes to take a positive message to U.S. President George W. Bush when he meets him at the G-8 summit in Japan.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a public plea to his leftist allies in parliament to let the nuclear deal with the United States move ahead. That agreement would mandate international inspections of India's civilian nuclear facilities and will give access to India to the Western nuclear technology and the much-needed nuclear fuel for its power plants.

Mr. Singh says before he presents the nuclear agreement in Indian parliament and the deal goes to the U.S. Congress for final approval, he has to take certain steps for which the time is running out.

"We have to go to the IAEA to get an India-specific (Nuclear) safeguards agreement," says Mr. Singh. "Then we have to go to the Nuclear Suppliers Group to relax their present restrictive attitudes toward trade with India in nuclear materials."

Leftist Opposition

But India's communist lawmakers, such as Prakash Karat, oppose the deal. "The bilateral agreement negotiated with the United States administration will bind India into a strategic alliance with the U.S. with long-term consequences," says Karat.

India's well-known defense analyst, K. Subrahmaniyam, says he does not understand the concerns of the left-wing about India's strategic alliance with the United States. "But we have strategic partnership not only with the Americans. We also have it with European Union. We have it with Russians. We are having it with Japanese," says Subrahmaniyam. "If things shape out all right, one day we may have it with the Chinese. Therefore there is nothing very conspiratorial about strategic partnerships."

South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Dennis Kux, says the problem is that for this group of communists in India the Cold War has not yet ended.

"In the case of India the communists, particularly the group in parliament just does not want an association with the United States, because this would be in a way a capstone of the new relationship that has developed over the years between the United States and India," says Kux. "This was really the, from the Indian perspective, this was the last line on the sand, and the communists don't want it."

A long time observer of Indian politics, Walter Andersen at the Johns Hopkins University, agrees that as far as India's foreign policy is concerned India's leftists are die-hard communists who do not want India to get close to the United States.

"They do not want any kind of improved relationship [with the U.S.] and they often wrap this up in the mantle of 'nationalism' to protect the strategic autonomy of the country, which is also the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] argument by the way. But in fact unlike the BJP, they are genuinely anti-American," says Anderson.

Early Elections?

The communists are not a partner in India's ruling coalition government, but support it from the outside. Now they say if the deal goes ahead, they would not support the ruling coalition in a no-confidence vote. This could mean a new election earlier than the scheduled polls next year in May.

Apparently, Mr. Singh's Congress Party does not want to call early elections because of the double digit inflation and the rising cost of the oil. Reports from New Delhi say Mr. Singh is trying to bypass his leftist allies and win the support of opposition parties such as Mulayam Singh Yadav's socialist Samajwadi Party.

South Asia expert Walter Andersen says he understands Mr. Singh's urgency.

"Something literally has to be done in the next week or two for the present U.S. Congress to take it up before the next Congress sits on January 20," says Andersen. "And the next Congress may be less friendly [toward the deal] than the present one."

He says if opponents in India continue to delay, time could run out and there will be no deal at all. He says the chances of a new U.S. administration approving the deal are slim.

"Would a new administration of Barrack Obama or John Mccain be as enthusiastic? Neither one has shown the same kind of interest that George Bush has shown. And in fact Obama has shown more interest in nuclear non-proliferation measures," says Andersen.

Nuclear Power

In Washington, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Joseph Biden says if India gets IAEA approval, he will work hard to get the deal approved.

Prime Minister Singh has been emphasizing to the opponents of the nuclear deal that he is going to ahead with the nuclear agreement because it is in India's national interest.

South Asia specialist Dennis Kux, says there is no doubt that India essentially got what it wanted.

"[India] wanted acceptance by the United States as a nuclear power, it wanted the various restrictions that it had been put on over the years and it got it. The negotiations were extremely difficult, extremely time consuming," says Kux. "But in the end India essentially got what it wanted. It was able to keep its military facilities, there is no inspection of the military facilities. It gets a guarantee of nuclear fuel. It has access to international technology, civil technology and it has acceptance really of its nuclear weapon status."

Kux says if at the end of the day India fails to clinch the deal, it could raise questions about its future as a great power. "This was something the government of India negotiated," said Kux. "The government of India got what it wanted and then it does not appear to have the fortitude to push it through. That does not put India in the best light."

Kux says considering India's growing economy, the country needs power, and the deal will provide India not only with power, but clean power.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focusreportsclick here.