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US outlines the road ahead for nuke deal with India

By Aziz Haniffa
September 28, 2011 09:45 IST
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With the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal in a limbo in the wake of the Indian Parliament's nuclear liability law, the Barack Obama administration has asserted that complete implementation of the accord is imperative for the full transformation of the relationship.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, delivering the keynote address at the third Brookings-FICCI Strategic Dialogue on US-India Relations on the subject, 'Is There a Future to the US-India Strategic Partnership, asserted that "completing our civil nuclear partnership is central to both our nations' long-term prosperity and India's future energy security."

"For international and Indian firms to participate in India's civil nuclear sector, India needs a nuclear liability regime consistent with international standards," he said, and added: "To this end, we welcome India's commitment to ratify the Convention on Supplemental Compensation later this year, and we encourage India to engage with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that India's liability regime fully conforms with the international requirements under the Convention."

Burns said the "next step in the pursuit of mutual prosperity is a US-India bilateral investment treaty, which would enhance transparency, boost innovation, and create jobs."

He noted that "technical negotiations are about to get underway, and we must continue to make progress," and argued that "just as the United States will be integral to India's sustained economic growth and its efforts to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, India's emergence will be integral to long-term US economic prosperity."

Earlier, in his remarks, he had acknowledged that for all of the envisaged transformation of ties, further buoyed by President Obama's trip to India last November and his endorsement of India's bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, "A strong US-India partnership is neither automatic nor self-implementing."

"We each carry baggage of different kinds, and we each have our own world views, our own domestic preoccupations, and our own sense of our interests. Problems and disagreements will inevitably arise," he said.

But Burns argued that "no one should mistake the inevitable differences between two close, opinionated friends for loss of momentum -- or worse, the lack of a future. Our track record is clear and our commitment is firm."

"So there is, it seems obvious to me, a bright future for the US-India strategic partnership," he said, and predicted, "That future will bear no resemblance to the distant past of mutual estrangement, but it is also unlikely to always resemble the recent past -- when it seemed every eighteen months brought new breakthroughs like the civil-nuclear deal, or support for permanent UNSC membership, or export controls reform."

Burns said, "Our challenge today is to broaden and deepen our bilateral, regional, and global cooperation. Given India's emergence as a global power and the breadth of our common challenges, no single issue and no single breakthrough can or should define our partnership. What matters is its overall health, its steady progress, and the long-term investment required to sustain both."

The top US official declared, "For our part, accepting India as a global power means learning to agree to disagree sometimes. It means recognising that profound mutual interests and shared values do not add up to unanimity of opinion. And, with cooperation moving forward on so many issues, a few differences need not cause us to lose momentum or ask whether there is a future for our partnership."

Burns said, "The greatest risk is not disagreement -- it is inattention.  It is the possibility, through domestic political distractions or failure of imagination or simple complacency, that America and India might leave the full potential of our partnership unmet."

"The truth is that we have crossed a threshold in our relations where -- for both of us, for the first time -- our success at home and abroad depends on our cooperation. America's vision of a secure, stable, prosperous twenty-first century world has at its heart a strong partnership with a rising India."

Thus Burns argued that "the question is not whether we have a future, or whether we will have a strategic partnership. The question is whether we are doing as much as we can to ensure that we realise its full promise. Few questions will matter more -- for both of us -- in the new century unfolding before us."

India's new ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao, who shared the podium with Burns, in her keynote, acknowledged, "Of course there would be issues on which there will be a difference of views."

She said, "In a relationship as wide in scope as India-US strategic partnership, it is quite natural that we would not have the same views on all the issues. But we need to deal with a sense of maturity without losing sight of the broad, long-term strategic goals of this relationship and with sensitivity to each other's vital interests."

Rao said, "Ours is a natural and enduring partnership. It is my firm conviction that the future of India-US strategic partnership is very promising and will advance the cause of peace and prosperity of our two peoples."

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