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India-US nuclear deal: 'There is more work to be done'

May 18, 2012 11:24 IST

Amidst growing concern in the United States Congress that the India-US nuclear deal is in limbo, the Barack Obama administration last week attempted, albeit weakly, to assuage the angst that Washington has been taken for a ride by New Delhi.

Parliament's nuclear liability law has left American companies hanging after all of the capital they extended in pushing the accord through both the US Senate and the House of Representatives.
Congressman Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asia, convened a hearing last week on US Foreign Policy Priorities in the subcontinent.

In his opening remarks, he said, "It is no secret to date that the US-India civil nuclear agreement hasn't met US commercial expectations due to the nuclear liability law passed by the Indian Parliament, which essentially shuts out US companies."
Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robert Blake, who was among several senior officials who appeared before the subcommittee, agreed with Chabot.

He said, "There is more work to be done on both sides to create the level playing field necessary for US companies to fully participate in India's civil nuclear market."
Blake noted, "In the interim, we continue to have a constructive dialogue with the Indian government on these issues, and we are pleased that US companies are finding ways to move forward now with commercial negotiations."
But Chabot apparently was not impressed by this response and returned to this topic during the interaction that followed the testimony of all the officials and asked Blake why American companies should have any optimism that this will ultimately be implemented.
Blake said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her recent trip to New Delhi, had "discussed this with senior Indian leaders and noted that we continue to have a very strong interest in supporting our companies' interests in moving ahead."
He told Chabot and the other lawmakers that "she was pleased to hear from India that they have restated their commitment to ensuring a level playing field for our companies and we have had a very strong dialogue on the liability legislation."
"That dialogue has relieved some of our concerns, but not all of our concerns," he added.
Blake acknowledged, "Our companies still feel that there are impediments to moving ahead with the current law, so we will continue to work through that."
"But in the meantime," he explained, "we are focusing on trying to support our companies' efforts to sign early commercial agreements -- things that do not require or don't impede in any way by existing liability legislation."

Aziz Haniffa In Washington, DC