Others May Benefit From US Nuke Deal With India
September 16, 2008 - 6:24 AMThe U.S. may have pressed India's case for special nuclear status, but given congressional delays in ratifying the treaty, France could become the first nation to benefit from nuclear commerce with the Asian democracy.
Indian media speculate that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may sign a previously-agreed-upon civil nuclear cooperation agreement with France later this month, even if the landmark Indo-U.S. nuclear deal has not been approved by the U.S. Congress by then.
India and France already have announced plans for a civil nuclear cooperation agreement to take their defense cooperation “beyond a buyer-seller relationship.”
The two countries also are set to intensify exchanges of nuclear scientists and to establish structures for training and undertaking of nuclear safety research.
Earlier, India’s foreign minister said India would finalize the first deal with the U.S. since it had helped India obtain a waiver from Nuclear Supplier’s Group, enabling India to conduct nuclear commerce without signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and while retaining a nuclear weapons program.
The shift in India’s stand came after President Bush wrote to U.S. lawmakers last week, asking Congress to endorse the agreement with India but clarifying that assurances on fuel supply were not legally binding.
Delhi reacted sharply to the letter, according to Indian media reports, citing diplomatic sources. The government has not commented publicly, and some observers suspect it has encouraged the publicity in a bid to increase pressure on Washington ahead of a planned visit by Singh next week.
American businesses are awaiting approval to enter a nuclear commerce market worth some $100 billion.
Washington’s strenuous campaigning at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) helped India to end over three decades of nuclear isolation prompted by its atomic tests first carried out in 1974.
But the text of the agreement, which enumerates the terms of nuclear trade between America and India, has become a sore point. India does not want a deal that would endanger its future nuclear supplies and programs.
With the NSG waiver in hand, there is no legal reason why India cannot now look to other countries for nuclear commerce, and French and Russian companies are keen to take advantage of the new situation.
Last January, French Ambassador to India Jerome Bonnafont said an agreement on civilian nuclear energy cooperation was “technically ready” and could be signed soon after India obtained the IAEA and NSG nod.
India and France historically have been close allies and France was the originator back in 1998 of the idea of giving India a special status for civilian nuclear energy cooperation.
“French advocacy of India as a responsible nuclear power, without being a signatory of NPT, went a long way in convincing the international community of India’s strong nuclear credentials,” said Indian historian Dr. Rashmi Patni.
France played a key role in generation of consensus at the NSG, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy himself writing to leaders of various countries seeking support for India.
Political analyst and former newspaper editor Vijay Bhandari said India has other reasons to repay France for its support, noting that Paris has backed India’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and wants to bring India into an expanded G8.