The government may have left it too late to actually conclude the civil nuclear deal with the United States under the George Bush administration.
Keeping the politics out of it, even if the government gets a green signal to seal a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) now, the very earliest it could go to the US government for presentation to Congress is October. By which time, with the US Presidential election fever at its height, only the ‘lame duck’ session of the US Congress would remain.
Having arrived at an India-specific safeguards agreement, broadly based on specifications of the INFCIRC 66, the Indian government would need formal approval to seal the agreement from the IAEA Board of Governors. The Board will meet in July to consider names for a successor to three-time IAEA Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei. That is the soonest India can approach the Board.
The Board’s nod would then allow the United States to seek an “extraordinary” plenary session and present the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement (in early August) and seek a waiver for India from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). According to senior officials involved in the process, NSG countries would take at least two months to thoroughly vet the documents and arrive at a consensus. The NSG could even turn down the request for a waiver for India to begin trade in nuclear goods.
In the “best case scenario,” an official said, if the NSG clears the waiver for India, the 123 Agreement would go to the US administration for a “presidential determination” in October. President Bush would have to present the deal to the US Congress with a “determination” saying that India has fulfilled its requirements and has received a waiver from the NSG and that it has negotiated a suitable safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
Then, if considered important enough, it could be taken up in the ‘lame duck’ session of the US Congress at the end of the year.
Officials point out that the Hyde Act was passed during the ‘lame duck’ session of Congress in December, 2006. But there were no presidential elections that year and no imminent change of administration due.
Only after the US Congress votes for the deal would it become “operational” and allow India to begin the process of accessing nuclear fuel and technology from the supplier countries. “Nothing is impossible. But even in the very best case scenario, there would have to be very strong political will,” an official said.