A top Obama administration official on Thursday said that though some progress is being made in the implementation of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, it is going to be a long and tough road to work through the issues related to India's nuclear liability law.
"I think that the 123 agreement was a transformational agreement between the relationship between the United States and India. But since that deal was enacted, I think that there has been very slow and halting progress because of the nuclear liability law in India and the hindrances that that has posed to advancing civil nuke cooperation," Indian American diplomat Nisha Desai Biswal said.
Biswal was speaking at her confirmation hearing for the post of Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, succeeding Robert Blake.
"I am hopeful, though, that we're making progress and that there seems to be some progress between Westinghouse and the Indian government and PCIL on approving a small contract. We're hopeful that that is something that can be announced in the near future and that that will pave the way for additional work in the months ahead," Biswal said.
"It is going to be a long and tough road to work through the issues with the nuclear liability law, but I think it's fundamentally in India's interests as well as in the interests of the United States to work through those issues so that we can progress with civil nuclear cooperation," she said in response to a question from Senator Tim Kaine, chairman of the subcommittee on Near eastern and South and Central Affairs.
"It's probably a model for what's going to happen around the world on nuclear agreements for generating electricity, for peaceful use of nuclear power. What are the prospects for some movement on the nuclear liability law in India?" Senator Jim Risch, Ranking Member of the sub-committee asked.
"It's a difficult undertaking," Biswal said, adding India is still grappling with the devastating legacy of the Bhopal gas tragedy.
"That has defined in many ways how the Indian population has viewed nuclear power. We understand those concerns and we understand that legacy. Nonetheless, as you look at India's energy needs and to the future, civil nuclear power is an important option," she noted.
"And for that option to really play out, this is an issue that I think India is going to need to grapple with and it's a conversation that the government is going to need to engage with its parliament and with its population. We are hopeful that that will happen, that this will move forward because we do think that this is an area that is fundamentally in the Indian interest and we want to support that," she said.
Biswal said there is a very strong desire to move forward on this in India. "But I think it is going to be a political challenge for the Indians. And we look forward to working with them," she told lawmakers.
Image: Nisha Biswal speaking at her confirmation hearing for the post of US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, on Thursday