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'N-deal failure will damage ties with India'

The Council on Foreign Relations says legislation passed with broad support will benefit both the US and India.

india Updated: Jun 08, 2006 13:07 IST

If Congress does not approve the US-India nuclear deal, "it would damage the bilateral relationship" between the world's two largest democracies, an American think-tank warned on Wednesday, suggesting a two-stage compromise approach.

In a new report released on Wednesday, Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based independent, national membership organisation and a non-partisan centre for scholars, says it was suggesting the two-stage approach as an enduring strategic partnership cannot be founded upon legislative action taken grudgingly.

"Legislation passed with broad support will benefit both the US and India in the long term," say the authors, Michael A Levi and Charles D Ferguson, both Council fellows for science and technology, in the report, "US-India Nuclear Cooperation: A Strategy for Moving Forward".

The deal, envisaging nuclear cooperation between the US and India for the first time in more than 30 years, would help create a stronger bilateral relationship that would, in turn, improve America's position in Asia and the world, they say.

By strengthening relations with China's next-door neighbour, the US has the potential to improve its strategic position, when US policymakers of both parties have long been concerned about a rising China, the report indicates.

Meanwhile, as the US policy increasingly focuses on promoting democracy worldwide, the appeal of a deeper relationship with the world's largest democracy is undeniable, it says.

"American exclusion of India from nuclear commerce has long grated on New Delhi, proving an irritant in the bilateral relationship, and removing this point of friction would no doubt strengthen the relationship," says the report.

While it criticised the Bush Administration for conceding too much in its negotiations with India, Levi and Ferguson concluded that, as long as Congress can reinforce a handful on non-proliferation bottom-lines, it would be unwise to scuttle the deal now.

The authors thus suggest that Congress should adopt a two-stage approach: formally endorsing the deal's basic framework, while delaying final approval until it is assured that critical non-proliferation needs are met.

"Patience and a few simple fixes would address major proliferation concerns while ultimately strengthening the strategic partnership," say the report.

The Bush Administration has stirred deep passions and put Congress in the seemingly impossible bind of choosing between approving the deal and damaging nuclear non-proliferation, or rejecting the deal and thereby setting back an important strategic relationship. But this is a false choice, they argue.

Levi and Ferguson advise Congress to "reserve the bulk of its political capital for a handful of top-tier objectives. It should focus on preventing Indian nuclear testing and fundamental changes in Indian nuclear strategy, rather than on blocking growth in the number of Indian nuclear weapons.

"It should focus on obtaining cooperation - from India as well as other countries - in controlling the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies, instead of on measures that would shape the development of nuclear technology in India itself.

"Congress should issue a set of bottom-line requirements for the formal US-India nuclear cooperation agreement, for India's inspection agreement with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), and for new [Nuclear Suppliers Group] rules that would allow nuclear commerce with India, and enforce those requirements by refusing to pass final legislation enabling nuclear cooperation until the agreements are in place and are satisfactory," the report says.

The report urges Congress and the administration to focus on five principles as the basic framework for solidifying the deal:

* "Congress should ensure that, if India breaks its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, nuclear cooperation will cease.

* "To reinforce [India's] commitments [to strengthening export controls], Congress should ask the administration if it requires any money or legal authority to assist India in improving its export controls, and it should provide whatever is needed. This support would most likely fund American experts to work cooperatively with Indian authorities, rather than comprise direct transfers to India.

* "US legislation, while not mandating the future shape of the Indian nuclear complex, should provide incentives to steer India in the right direction.

* Future cooperation should be freed from the "formal annual review [that could] undermine the confidence-building purpose of the US-India deal. Instead, in exchange for giving up its annual right of review, Congress should provide less-intrusive incentives for India to label future reactors as civilian and place them under inspection."

* Congress should accept that India will not "unilaterally cap its nuclear arsenal".