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The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Why Bush has to deliver in India
February 06, 2006
Will President George W Bush deliver? Will India-US negotiations on the civilian nuclear deal yield something before the American leader lands in New Delhi on the evening of February 28?
The stakes are high for both New Delhi and Washington, DC, and several global pulls and pressures are involved.
Even if Bush doesn't get a final US Congressional nod to allow India access to civil nuclear technology, the trillion-dollar question is will he come with some kind of a face-saver.
One cannot ignore the circumstances in which Bush arrives for his first-ever visit to India.
Bush is not exactly a popular leader after his misadventures in Iraq. He is disliked immensely in the Middle East, West Asia and Europe. India is one country that the US -- if not Bush -- still has impressive support.
If Bush wants to consolidate his and his country's standing it is logical to think that he will not come empty handed. Bush's visit has evoked unmatched curiosity among people in the know of the contours of the India-US nuclear deal.
According to sources in the Prime Minister's Office and the ministry of external affairs some "substantial movement" over the nuclear deal is still not ruled out. Already, three India-US working group meetings have discussed the issue, making both sides aware of the practical and political problems.
A senior Indian diplomat told rediff.com, "If you look at all the ground realities, the US has to snatch the opportunity to convince India that it is a reliable long-time partner."
Bush is known for his business-like foreign trips unlike his predecessor Bill Clinton whose trips were full of colourful photo opportunities.
In view of his decreasing domestic clout and increasing international condemnation, Indian analysts expect Bush to make his India trip high on substance.
They feel it is time for India to ask how the US can have disproportionate investments in China vis a vis India.
When Senator John Kerry asked Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh last month what India can do to convince critics in the US Congress, Dr Singh reportedly told the Democrat: 'India is an unique case. We have behaved responsibly, one can't say this about other signatories of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.'
Dr Singh hinted that China and Iran have violated proliferation rules but India's nuclear record is above board. The prime minister pointed out that American critics are wrong in equating India with other countries with doubtful proliferation records.
Senator Kerry was also told that the nuclear deal is not as important as a broader India-US relationship based on mutual trust. Indian opinion makers reportedly asked him how the US could trust China more when it has clandestinely helped Pakistan and Iran in its nuclear ambitions.
K Subrahamanyam, one of India's best-known strategic analysts, told rediff.com last month that he sees a 60 percent chance of the nuclear deal becoming a reality before the Bush visit.
If Bush cannot take the July 18, 2005 nuclear agreement to a logical conclusion then it also means the China and Pakistan lobbies have succeeded in Washington, comments an Indian diplomat.
The nuclear deal will decide if the US is serious about its oft-repeated pronouncements of making India a big power.
According to sources, the Prime Minister's Office and the ministry of external affairs are finding Indian nuclear scientists tough nuts to crack. Post-July, the scientists were asked to draw up the first list of civil nuclear establishments which would fall under global safeguards and controls so that these facilities can receive imported aromic fuel to run them.
"Some Indian scientists take an elevated position during the debate on separating civil and military nuclear facilities," confided one source. "They behave as if they are talking to US representatives and not Indians! They think only they are capable of guarding India's interests."
Most Indian scientists want equal rights and obligations that US has for its nuclear units. But the US has accepted a cap on fissile material while India is still negotiating this.
Before India accepts the nuclear treaty it would like to increase its stock of fissile material. It is in view of this that India has limitations in asking for more concessions from the US.
According to reliable sources, the Americans rejected India's first list of civilian nuclear entities -- which was handed over by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran to US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns -- because it had an inadequate number of civilian facilities. It clearly fell short of American expectations.
The American response then led to considerable debate among nuclear scientists, diplomats and the prime minister's senior officers.
Sources told rediff.com, "Indian scientists are being told that the more units that are kept out of the civilian list, the more they end up using India's valuable uranium reserves. Because once the deal is finalised all undeclared civilian nuclear facilities will not get fuel from the open market or from the safeguarded units."
That means the stock of enriched uranium -- which can be used to make bombs in the future -- will have to be spent creating civilian nuclear energy.
A senior Indian government official also revealed that Dr Singh and his advisers are not accepting everything that the US wants.
After Burns found India's first list inadequate, the US side sent the Indians its wish-list, which had too many expectations. "India too did not accept it. The matters got stuck there. Both teams are now negotiating the second list. Dr Singh will not allow the deal to impact India's strategic nuclear programme because he has given a commitment to Parliament that it will not be capped," the sources said.
According to a source in the India-US working gGroup on the nuclear deal, "No one expects that all India's civilian units will be put under international safeguards."
The US wants to ensure that India abides by International Atomic Energy Agency rules.
In the event both sides are unable to come to terms on the nuclear deal in two weeks, expect some big-ticket announcements from President Bush on space, agriculture, trade and India's ambition for a United Nations Security Council seat.
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