New York Times: Senator John Kerry was here recently, inquiring about nuclear bargains being struck between India and the United States. Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, was here, too, calling on India to open its retail sector to American business. New York Times
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
NEW DELHI, Jan. 22 – Senator John Kerry was here recently, inquiring about nuclear bargains being struck between India and the United States. Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, was here, too, calling on India to open its retail sector to American business.
And Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, regarded here as more foe than friend, led a delegation of six last November and left praising India’s advances.
New Delhi, the Indian capital, has had a flurry of visitors from Capitol Hill lately, with the American Embassy here recording 10 Congressional delegations in 2005 alone.
The reasons for the newfound interest in India are self-evident: its growing strategic importance for an American administration eager to check Chinese dominion over Asia, the lure of the Indian market for American companies, and the emergence of Indian-Americans as an increasingly engaged political bloc.
For India, too, the stakes are important. Rarely, if ever, has the United States Congress been as important for New Delhi. It alone can grant a boon that India desperately wants: approval of a deal signed last July by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to share nuclear materials, including fuel and reactors, to help this energy-starved country.
Before the White House proposes the legislation before Congress, it has required India, which has already developed nuclear weapons, to present a detailed plan to segregate reactors for either civilian or military use.
“We expect that India will propose a civil-military separation plan that is credible, transparent, and defensible from a nonproliferation standpoint,” White House officials told Congress last week, in response to a list of 82 questions submitted by Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana.
Negotiations held here last week, between the main architects of the nuclear deal, did not appear to yield anything close to an agreement. Whether the White House will be able to present legislation, as it had hoped, before Mr. Bush’s scheduled visit to India in early March remains unclear.
“A deal is certainly possible and within reach,” R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, said in an interview on Friday. “It’s not going to be easy to reach.”
The Indian foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, put it this way at a news briefing on Friday: “We need to have more discussion on this particular subject.”
The nuclear issue presents a delicate dance for both sides. After India detonated a nuclear weapon in 1998, the United States penalized New Delhi. For its part, India, which never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, had long maintained that America and others in the nuclear club had no right to say who could or could not possess the bomb.
In a nod to India’s growing strategic importance, Mr. Bush is willing to support peaceful Indian nuclear ambitions, even as Washington has taken steps to try to prevent other countries, like Iran and North Korea, from advancing their nuclear programs. In particular, Washington would like India’s help in isolating Iran, a traditional Indian ally, as Iran tries to jump-start its nuclear ambitions.
For India, which has long positioned itself as a leader of nonaligned developing countries, and which has competing interests of its own, the choice is not an easy one.
Iran is among India’s most important energy suppliers, and talks are under way to build an ambitious $4 billion pipeline to transport Iranian natural gas to India, via Pakistan.
Commenting on the three-way tango, The Business Standard, an English-language daily, published an editorial last week that asked bluntly: “Is supporting the U.S. a good option? If not, what other option is there?”
This is where both the United States and India begin to feel the burden of democracy. In both countries, legislators are equally exercised by the Iran standoff.
The United States wants India’s support to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council when the issue goes before the International Atomic Energy Agency on Feb. 2. Last September, India voted along with the United States when Iran came up before the agency, a part of the United Nations, but India’s leaders have since been noncommittal.
Congress is closely watching how India casts its vote this time, with members saying that it could influence whether they support the Indian nuclear deal.
“It is extremely important that we know India will stand united with us in that effort,” Senator Kerry, a Democrat of Massachusetts, said in an e-mail message this week.
At the news briefing on Friday, Mr. Saran sidestepped a question on how United States lawmakers would view India’s stance on Iran, saying he sensed strong bipartisan support for “a much stronger U.S.-India relationship” on Capitol Hill.
Questions are bubbling from within the Indian Parliament about the virtues of locking arms with the United States, at the expense of Iran. A coalition of leftist parties, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has all but threatened to cripple his government should Mr. Singh side with Washington.
In the United States-India nuclear negotiations there are several sticking points. For the United States, the red-flag issues include how many nuclear reactors will be operated under its desired safeguards, and whether they will be run that way forever.
The Indians point out that their civilian and military nuclear facilities have never been segregated. Any future segregation would have to be done in a manner that its government regards to be “necessary for our strategic program,” according to a senior official who refused to be identified because of the delicate nature of diplomatic negotiations.
Should India not vote to report Iran to the Security Council next month, argued George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, it could imperil India’s own credibility as a stalwart of nonproliferation.
On Friday, Mr. Saran once again cautioned that “confrontation should be avoided” with Iran. Sitting on his right, Mr. Burns, the under secretary of state, criticized Iran for having “crossed so many international red lines.”