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'New Indian government may not abandon N-deal'

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | March 25, 2009 11:17 IST

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T P Sreenivasan, India's former Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency and ex-Indian Ambassador [Images] to the United Nations in Vienna [Images], has predicted that the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal will be honoured regardless of whatever dispensation comes to power following the general election in May.

The erstwhile diplomat, whose many tours of duty also included a stint in Washington DC, as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian embassy at the time of the May 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests after which India was slapped with punitive sanctions by the US, however acknowledged that "the degree of enthusiasm for it will depend on the nature of the winning coalition."

Sreenivasan noted that "two of the three coalitions vying for power in India are committed to amend it, though not to abandon it."

But he reiterated that the deal's "relevance to the energy needs of the country is fully recognised and no one is complaining about the agreements with France [Images] and Russia [Images], which would not have been possible without the Indo-US agreement."

Sreenivasan, one of the early cheer-leaders of the deal, who had even described it in an article as 'A Dream Come True,' said he had done so in such adulatory terms not because he was "romanticising it or making it appear attractive to many in India, who were still very sceptical after three years of debate and a divisive vote in Indian Parliament," but merely to express his own "disbelief that a seemingly impossible compromise was found between two irreconcilable positions."

He pointed out that India had "asserted that it would not subscribe to the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty) and the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) and the United States was leading the charge to isolate India into submission despite the many ideals and perspectives the two countries shared."

Sreenivasan also recalled his experience during his stint as Governor for India at the IAEA in Vienna from 2000 to 2004, where "although a founder member and a champion of the IAEA as a promotional agency, India was reminded at every step of the way that it was outside the grand bargain of the NPT, even though many parties to the bargain were guilty of violating its provisions."

"In matters like technical cooperation, nuclear applications and the budget, India played a crucial role in the IAEA, but when it came to leadership roles, India was consciously excluded," he said.

"India was denied a chance to chair the Board of Governors and even an Indian candidature to audit the agency was set aside on the ground that India was not a signatory to the NPT."

Sreenivasan said, "I found it unconscionable that the membership of the IAEA should be categorised on the basis of a treaty, which came into existence much after the IAEA was established."

Thus, he said the deal "was a harbinger of liberation from the shackles around India-US relations as well as India's role in the international community."

He said that now "at the international and bilateral levels, the test lies in the manner in which the change that the nuclear deal has brought about in the existing architecture in both is handled. Is the Indian exception seen as merely meeting an exigency or as a fundamental change, with major implications for the nuclear order?"

"Whether the IAEA is ready to accord India formal recognition as a partner in the proliferation regime is yet to be seen," he added.

Sreenivasan also heaped kudos on the Indian American community for the sustained and concerted manner in which it lobbied both the then Bush Administration and more importantly the US Congress to approved the deal expeditiously.

"The glittering performance of the Indian American community has served India-US relations and improved bilateral relations," he said, and added, "In turn, it has enhanced the prestige and relevance of the community. Just like at the time of the nuclear tests of 1998, the community extended whole-hearted support to the nuclear agreement and spared no effort to bring it into fruition."

Sreenivasan predicted that "the benefits that will flow from the agreement will naturally be of value to the community," and said, the community performance clearly demonstrated that it has "come of age in lobbying efforts and has become a force to be reckoned with in policy formulation. It will be a factor that will determine the smooth flow of bilateral relations."

He said that as the Indian election process has begun, and with the new Obama [Images] Administration settling in, it is imperative to remove "the vestiges of an old mindset on both sides. In India, there is still a large section of people, who believe that the nuclear agreement is a trap. They are still looking for concrete evidence to show that the United States is ready to embrace India as an equal partner."

"They lament that due recognition for India in terms of membership of global policymaking bodies such as the UN Security Council has not been forthcoming."

Meanwhile, on the US side, Sreenivasan pointed out that "the non-proliferation lobby has not come to terms with India as a partner. Their watchful eyes still glower and do not soothe. Their acceptance of the new dispensation is still tentative."

But he declared that "whatever twists and turns it may take at the hands of our future leaders, it (the nuclear deal) shall remain a historic milestone in Indo-US relations. The agreement is no more a matter of adding a few megawatts of electricity to the Indian grid, but an instrument of change."

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