/ 2 October 2008

India ruling party hails historic nuclear deal

India’s ruling Congress party on Thursday hailed United States approval of a historic nuclear trade deal which will unleash billions of dollars of investment and draw the world’s biggest democracy closer to the West.

The US Congress voted in favour of the deal ending a three-decade ban on US nuclear trade with India, handing a victory to President George Bush on a top foreign policy priority.

”This is unprecedented, its historic,” said Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a spokesperson for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party. ”For the first time a country like India has been given the international acclamation by the entire world at lightning speed.”

The communists, who withdrew their support for the Singh government in July over the deal, condemned it as India’s ”surrender” to Washington.

For India, faced with a massive energy deficit, the accord opens up a market worth billions to US companies such as General Electric and Westinghouse Electric, a unit of Japan’s Toshiba.

The deal also caps a gradual rapprochement with the West since the days of socialist self-reliance, a process that began with economic reforms in the 1990s and has gathered pace with the spread of wealth and Western culture ever since.

But the pact was always more about geopolitical strategy then business ties. It will bolster India’s strategic clout and the alliance will counterbalance China’s rise in the region.

”The United States saw that India’s economic clout will inevitably translate into strategic power. And the US acted,” said C Raja Mohan, a Singapore-based security expert.

”It’s a means to an end, helping clear the way for India and the West to work together. Before the deal, India was not part of the international calculus in Asia. Now it is.”

Non-proliferation disaster?
Final approval came late on Wednesday when the Senate voted to ratify the agreement, sending the legislation to Bush to sign into law.

Bush said he looked forward to signing the Bill.

”This legislation will strengthen our global nuclear non-proliferation efforts, protect the environment, create jobs, and assist India in meeting its growing energy needs in a responsible manner,” Bush said in a statement.

But critics say the deal does grave damage to global efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons, by letting India import nuclear fuel and technology even though it has tested nuclear weapons and never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

”Contrary to the counterfactual claims of proponents and apologists, it does not bring India into the ‘non-proliferation mainstream’,” said Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, a non-partisan Washington-based policy organisation.

Critics added the deal overturned decades of US policy of refusing to sell nuclear technology to nations lacking full safeguards against diversion of that technology into nuclear weapons programmes.

”Why are we rushing to pass this gravely flawed agreement?” demanded Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, before the vote. He said there was nothing in it to prevent India from resuming nuclear testing. India, which first detonated a nuclear device in 1974, last tested in 1998.

Already, Pakistan, which also tested a nuclear device in 1998, is asking for a similar deal.

”Pakistan will now be justified to also make a demand for a similar deal as we don’t want discrimination,” Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Thursday.

”Pakistan will also now make efforts for a civil nuclear [deal] and they will have to accommodate us.”

The India-US deal could open up about $27-billion in investment in 18 to 20 nuclear plants in India over the next 15 years, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry.

There is global competition for that business with France’s Areva, General Electric, Japan’s Hitachi and Russia’s atomic energy agency Rosatom in competition. – Reuters