The passage of the India-United States nuclear cooperation bill at the lame duck session of the US Senate on Thursday night is welcome. The massive 85-12 margin indicates that the idea of civil nuclear cooperation with India has wide bipartisan support in Washington. A similar House of Representatives version of the bill was passed last July with a similar lopsided margin of 359-68. Yet, there are some disquieting features that ought to be noted in India. A closer look
reveals that the support for India has not been as bipartisan as one might assume. In the Senate voting, the ‘killer amendments’, though defeated, were moved in the main by Democrats like Barbara Boxer, Byron Dorgan, Jeff Bingaman and Russ Feingold. A closer analysis of the pattern of voting during the House bill, too, shows that Democrats had more reservations about the idea of nuclear cooperation with India, even though they backed the final bill.
This is a clear indicator that doing business with a Democrat-dominated Congress will not be easy. As it is, Democratic presidential hopefuls like Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama stayed close to the Centre and their position flip-flopped through the lengthy debate, though they finally backed the majority vote. Yet, as the voting has shown, there is widespread support for civil nuclear cooperation with India. This is no doubt being led by President George Bush and his administration and
the Republican Party. But Democrats like Joe Biden and John Kerry played a major role in ensuring the passage of the measure and the defeat of the so-called ‘killer amendments’ in the Senate.
Both the Senate and the House versions of the India nuclear cooperation bill have clauses that can still derail the deal. Some of these are in the form of discriminatory provisions that hold India to an artificially high standard. Others single out India for technology denial. For example, the US does not allow exports of enrichment and reprocessing technology to any country in the world. But in specifying in the bill that it will be denied to India is tantamount to waving a red rag before our eyes.
There are expectations now that most of the problem clauses and amendments will be dropped when the bill goes into conference for reconciling the House and Senate versions. India has made it abundantly clear that it will sign up only on a measure that sticks to the letter and spirit of the July 18, 2005, agreement. Yet, as the party that will stand to gain the maximum from the deal, India needs to realise that the best should not be the enemy of good. We should be ready to accept any reasonable compromise offer.