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After NSG ok, India doesn't really need the US

The Rediff News Bureau | July 09, 2008 18:27 IST

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Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] may have gone out on a limb, even risking his government's four-year long association with the Left parties, over the Indo-US nuclear deal, all because time was running out on the deal, but it seems that more than India, the clock is ticking for the Bush administration.

The Washington Post reports that while the deal may pass its hurdles in India but it won't be so lucky in US Congress. That is because the Hyde Act of 2006, which gave initial go-ahead to the nuclear deal, requires that US Congress sits in session for 30 continuous days to consider it.

The problem is that US Congress goes into recess in August, before finally adjourning on September 26. In effect, as of now it has less than 40 days left in the session.

For India, two important steps need to be completed. One, it needs to conclude its agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which Dr Singh said will be done soon after his government wins the vote of confidence, and two, secure a nod from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group which controls the trade in uranium and reactors. It is after these steps are done that the clock begins for India.

The problem is that the IAEA board of governors is expected to take up the matter only in August, while the NSG could take several months to reach a consensus, reports the Post, and quotes Lynne Weil, spokeswoman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee as saying, 'At this point, both [IAEA and NSG actions] have to take place in the next couple of weeks'.

A way out could be holding a lame duck Congress session after the Presidential elections in November, but House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) has reiterated that there will not be one, especially if as expected the Democrats gain in the elections.

Given this, it seems likely that the US, and not India, may end up the loser. Once armed with the NSG approval, India can begin nuclear trade with other countries, US administration officials and congressional aides told the Post.

What it means is that countries like France [Images] and Russian can make nuclear sales to India while American companies continue to face restrictions since the congressional approval has not been forthcoming.

Sharon Squassoni, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agrees as much to the Post. 'India doesn't need the US deal at all' after the NSG's approval, Squassoni told the newspaper. 'It was a fatal flaw in the logic of US Congress.'

The irony, in such a situation, is inescapable. The US will not benefit in terms of nuclear trade from the deal it set in motion in July 2005, other nations could. A State Department official admitted as much to the Post when he said, 'I don't believe there is anything to prevent them from doing that, if we don't ratify it.'

But since it involves US business, he was hopeful that US Congress will not prevent them from benefiting. 'It is the hidden force of this agreement. It is US business that sees an opportunity.'

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