Mon, Oct 29, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Faltering nuclear agreement could mean big trouble for India

Political infighting is being blamed for the potential failure of a US-India nuclear agreement. Some say the nation's economy and reputation are at stake

By Richard Halloran

A nuclear agreement that was to have been emblematic of new strategic relations between the US and India appears to be falling apart, with serious consequences all around.

For US President George W. Bush, the faltering of the civilian nuclear agreement will be only a moderate diplomatic setback, overshadowed as it is by the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the hostility of Iran and the Israeli-Arab conflict. Even so, the failure will rob Bush of what might have been a modest triumph in the final months of his presidency.

For India, the consequences are likely to be more severe. The political life of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government is in jeopardy. India's international standing, including its aspiration to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will suffer. India's economic growth, which has started to rival China's, will be slowed by shortages of energy.

India's swirling political infighting seems to be the fundamental cause for the breakup of the nuclear agreement. The leftist parties, which are part of the ruling coalition under Singh, have opposed the agreement as diluting India's sovereignty. That is often a powerful argument in former British and other colonies jealous of their independence.

In this instance, the left has made common cause with rightist and nationalist parties who are intent on bringing down the Singh government, which has been in office since May 2004.

Singh, an economist by profession who has instituted several reforms, had pushed the nuclear agreement despite opposition within his own government.

Of this about-face, Prem Shankar Jha, a prominent Indian commentator in Delhi, wrote: "The damage that not having the courage to complete this deal will do to India is almost beyond comprehension."

Jha said this week: "Reneging now will make India a permanent outcast" and that "India's behavior shows that it never intended to be a constructive partner in the management of the world."

The nuclear agreement, which has been more than two years in the making, would have given India access to fresh supplies of nuclear fuel and technology.

It would have brought India's nuclear energy program under the International Atomic Energy Agency's safety inspections. India would have pledged that its civilian nuclear program would be dedicated to peaceful uses.

The agreement, however, would not have halted India's effort to expand its arsenal of nuclear weapons nor would it have stopped the transfer of its current supply of nuclear materials from civilian to weapons programs.

Critics of the agreement in India, the US and elsewhere insisted that it would weaken the international effort to prevent the spread of nuclear arms.

Bush and Singh promoted the nuclear agreement into the centerpiece of what Nicolas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, called in 2005 "a broad, global partnership of the likes that we've not seen with India since India's founding in 1947."

In a speech in Delhi in March last year, Bush noted that the US and India had been kept apart during the Cold War "by the rivalries that divided the world."

India drew much of its military assistance from the Soviet Union and was a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement.

In contrast, Bush said, "India in the 21st century is a natural partner of the United States."

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