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US-India N-deal in limbo even after 3 years: US Senator

February 08, 2012 12:28 IST

The ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar, has bemoaned the fact that more than three years after the historic US-India civilian nuclear deal was signed, it still remains in limbo sans any implementation.

In remarks during the nomination hearing of career diplomat Nancy J Powell to be the next US ambassador to India, Lugar also pilloried Parliament's nuclear liability law-- which has been an anathema to US business and industry which was counting on monopolising the nearly $100 billion nuclear energy market that was envisaged -- saying that it effectively torpedoes New Delhi's accession to the International Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage.

"In 2008," he said, "the United States concluded the civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India. The legislation lifted a three-decade American moratorium on nuclear trade with India and opened the door for trade in a wide range of other high-technology items, such as supercomputers and fiber optics."

Lugar said, "This agreement remains important to the broad strategic advancement of the US-Indian relationship. But in the narrower context of nuclear trade with India, it has yet to bear significant fruit."

"In large measure," he argued, "this stems from the Indian Parliament's adoption of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. This legislation effectively rules out Indian accession to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage and could frustrate the US nuclear industry's efforts to play a role in India's expanding nuclear power sector."

Lugar said, "The bill's plain terms are fundamentally inconsistent with the liability regime that the international community is seeking to achieve in the CSC."

The lawmaker lamented that "to date, this administration has made very little progress on the CSC with India, and expressed the hope that Powell "will address the Obama administration's strategy for advancing US-Indian nuclear cooperation -- what high level exchanges have occurred between our governments regarding the status of liability protections for US nuclear exporters to India? More broadly, what is current state of our energy dialogue with New Delhi?"

Powell in response said, "I am eager to support efforts to ensure full implementation of the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, including ensuring a level playing field for American companies in the commercial applications of nuclear energy."

But more broadly, she said, "I think those who look at India's progress and its potential almost universally will point to energy as one of the key determinants in how India addresses its growing energy needs, not only for its economic development but also for advancing the needs of its people for electricity and other sources of energy."

Powell predicted that "we are poised to be very, very good partners on this. We have an energy dialogue as part of the 20 that I mentioned in my testimony. It is done at the highest levels and involves traditional -- I look at traditional sources of energy as well as new technologies."

She said, "We also have a partnership that Senator Lugar mentioned in his testimony that is looking particularly at innovations in energy. I think, given the very strong scientific communities, the very strong entrepreneurial communities in both of our countries, that this is an extraordinarily important compliment to the government efforts."

Powell said, "There will certainly have to be support for some of these technologies, support for the research, regulatory framework that allows them to be used, but the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of our two countries I think provide us with opportunities to look at these new sources."

"Obviously the civil nuclear energy piece is another important part of the dialogue of trying to make sure that as India turns the nuclear energy to provide some of its energy resources, that it can benefit from the extraordinary technology that US companies bring to nuclear energy for the safety and security standards," she said, and reiterated, "to working with those companies, with the government of India to find a way for us to have a level playing field for that endeavour."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC