M A I N   N E W S

N-deal on the back burner
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

After more than two years of intense negotiations that involved frequent flights between Washington and New Delhi, officials on both sides now appear resigned to the fact that the civilian nuclear deal will not be wrapped up any time soon. Millions of dollars have been spent on lobbyists in an effort to win support in the United States Congress for the deal, which seeks to overturn three decades of US policy by allowing Washington to sell nuclear technology and fuel to India.

The Indian government alone has paid over a million dollars to two prominent Washington lobbying firms as part of this effort.

The US-India Business Council separately employed the services of Patton Boggs, another top-notch firm. For more than two years, these lobbyists have been working hard to convince American lawmakers of the benefits of the nuclear deal with India. The lobbyists are frustrated by Left parties’ opposition to the deal in India.

“It is hard to predict Indian politics, so we all remain on hold,” said Graham G. Wisner at Patton Boggs, who is part of the lobbying effort.

“The Bush Administration would like to get the deal done during this term, and the next administration will surely offer less favourable terms, so the ball is squarely in the Indian corner,” Wisner told The Tribune.

“Prepare your [readers] for an atmosphere of dirty coal fired solutions to Indian energy shortages, if the nuclear deal fails,” he warned.

The Bush administration has been keen to point out the clean energy benefits of nuclear cooperation. James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and President George W. Bush’s top environmental advisor, told The Tribune, “The main selling point of the nuclear deal is its importance and benefit to the people in India in providing a reliable, very clean source of energy that is also domestically secure.”

“By broadening the opportunities for India to take advantage of technologies and expertise around the world in a safe and secure way - it will help lift more people out of poverty,” Connaughton said, adding, “Climate change is an additional feature to that fundamental priority for India, in that nuclear power is one of the best sources of energy because it has zero emissions.”

Lobbyists and analysts point to elections in November and say that the politically charged atmosphere will make it increasingly difficult to push the nuclear deal through Congress.

“Election politics in America becomes very, very contentious to say the least,” said Wisner. “Both parties seek to get political leverage as they enter the election and this is not great time to pass a difficult piece of legislation. And this is difficult, there is no question about it.”

With time running out on the Bush administration the initial optimism over nuclear cooperation has given way to a more pessimistic outlook. Lisa Curtis at the Heritage Foundation said, “Most Washington-based analysts and officials seriously doubt the deal can be completed this year, although one or two U.S. officials may hold out hope that the Indian government will be able to maneuver to complete the deal in the next few months.”

“I think there has been a tremendous amount of frustration from the lobbyists that had worked hard to push this deal this far, from the senior administration officials who had convinced a skeptical US Congress to go ahead and support the deal and pass the legislation,” Curtis added. But even before Congress can vote on the deal, India must conclude a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and win the support of all 45 members of the NSG.

“Since the Left’s opposition to the deal and the Indian government’s backtracking on it last fall came as a complete shock to most US officials, I don’t think anyone wants to speculate on what happens now,” Curtis said. “There is a feeling that the ball is in India’s court, and there’s really nothing the US can do at this point.”



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