India and the US are now reconciling themselves to a delay in the Indo-US deal for civil nuclear cooperation. In the past month or so, as elections raised partisan temperatures in the US, it became apparent that the Senate version of the Bill to waive restrictions on trade with India may not be taken up for consideration. US Ambassador David C. Mulford has ascribed the delay to the wrangle over other pending legislation and is of the view that even a lame duck session in November may not help. In that situation, given US legislative rules, the whole process will have to be redone — from committee hearings to legislative passage in the House of Representatives and Senate, reconciliation of any differing language in the two Bills, as well as approval of the ‘123 agreement’ that will emerge from the new legislation.
Given the strong support that the Bush administration has given the measure and the 359-to-68 majority with which it was passed in the US House of Representatives earlier this year, there is no reason to believe that there will be any special difficulties in the coming year. However, there are issues like a putative North Korean test, or worsening of the Iranian issue that may roil Indo-US goodwill on the measure.
Critics have pointed out that the deal does not make much difference in terms of energy supplies to India’s growing economy. They are right. The deal is not about technology, but about global politics. By standing America’s traditional non-proliferation policy on its head on behalf of India, the Bush administration signalled India’s elevated standing in the American scheme of things. This should not be taken to imply that the Americans want India to play a subservient role, but that they want to single out India as an important element in their new global architecture. Whatever be the fate of the Bill, the original July 18, 2005 agreement is in itself a major achievement. It indicated that the US no longer sees India’s nuclear weapons status to be, in anyway, threatening to its interests. This uncharacteristically benign view of a country that has nuclear weapons and is not a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty forms the basis of the strategic partnership that the world’s sole superpower wishes to have with India.