Neither China nor any other country will play a spoiler in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) when the India-US civil nuclear deal comes up for final consideration in the 45-nation nuclear club, says Strobe Talbott, former US President Bill Clinton's pointsman on nuclear dialogue with India.
"It will move through the NSG without damage being done. China will not put a spoke in the wheel," Talbott, former US deputy secretary of state, told in an interview in New Delhi.
"China may ask difficult questions about India being excepted from the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) regime and why such an exception should be country-specific. But China is not in the business of being a spoiler any more," said Talbott, president of The Brookings Institution, an influential US think tank.
The reason why China, despite being a close friend of Pakistan that has been stridently demanding an India-like nuclear deal from the US, will not oppose India in the NSG was because of Beijing's changed foreign policy orientation, Talbott explained.
"China is conducting a pro-active diplomacy and is trying to be everybody's friend. Moreover, India and China have significantly improved their bilateral relations," he said.
Talbott, an expert on nuclear non-proliferation often uncharitably referred by some as an 'NPT ayatollah', is also confident about the approving stance of other NSG countries including the Scandinavian ones that are known for their uncompromising stand on the NPT and nuclear safety.
"The NSG members want to see how the deal goes through in the US Congress. They are biding their time. The Scandinavian countries will raise some questions, but the fact is nobody wants to be the skunk at a garden party," the tall and dapper Talbott said.
Talbott also vigorously rebutted a favourite theory of some strategic experts who suspect the US of using India as a counterweight to a rising China.
"The rise of China is one of the most important factors shaping the world of the 21st century. China's rise should be peaceful not only in its eyes but also by anybody's standards," he said.
"It would be really dumb to treat the India-US-China relationship as a three-handed poker game where the US plays the China card or China plays the US card. That will be a lose-lose game."
Although Talbott strongly feels that the Republican administration could have driven a harder bargain from India regarding the NPT, he allayed fears about the future of the nuclear deal if a Democrat succeeded George W Bush.
"I don't see a Democrat reopening the deal. Another Republican president, besides Bush, could have driven a harder bargain. The deal will surely sail through the Senate and the entire Congressional process possibly before Congressional polls in November," he said.
Talbott, known in India for his dialogue with the then foreign minister Jaswant Singh on nuclear engagement, is confident that regardless of who comes to power in the US, the momentum in the India-US relations is unstoppable.
"It would be consistent with the quantum leap that started during the time of the then president Bill Clinton. Then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Clinton kept the relationship on track.
"Whoever he or she might be the American president, they will keep this growing relationship on the track," he asserted.
A sign of the new warming of relations between the world's largest democracies, Talbott pointed out, was the "moderating" role played by India at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana.
"Any American who was following the summit appreciated the role played by Manmohan Singh in tempering an anti-America resolution many countries would have liked to see," he said.