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Experts divided on future of agreement

The guessing game has intensified in Delhi's power circles after PM tells Bush about "difficulties" in the N-deal, reports Amit Baruah.
Hindustan Times | By Amit Baruah, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 17, 2007 01:41 AM IST

The guessing game has intensified in Delhi's power circles after Manmohan Singh told the US President on Monday about "difficulties" in moving ahead with the nuclear deal.

Given that the Prime Minister was himself a leading advocate of the deal as well as a strategic partnership with the US, his conversation with George Bush makes it clear that there is a huge question mark over India re-entering the mainstream of international civil nuclear activities.

"My gut feeling is it (the deal) is probably dead. We had a window up to the end of the month to see it through, but now the timetable is not feasible," said Lalit Mansingh, the former Indian ambassador to Washington, on Tuesday.

"President Bush must be feeling lousy he spent so much of his political capital in trying to get the nuclear deal with India through the US Congress and the Nuclear Suppliers' Group."

Strategic affairs analyst K Subrahmanyam, though, has a different take.

"I think it has been put in the cold storage. It can be revived. The Hyde Act and the draft 123 Agreement is there."

The deal, Subrahmanyam believes, hasn't been completely repudiated. "The Left has won one round," he conceded, but a different government in New Delhi could again work with the US, given that the passage of the Hyde Act had huge bipartisan support in the American Congress.

A retired diplomat, who preferred anonymity, said when a new administration takes office in Washington in January 2008 it could always ask to re-negotiate the civil nuclear deal.

He believes that if the Manmohan Singh government falls, they cannot go ahead with negotiations since it would be "politically improper".

Former Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha feels it's a victory for Parliament, not the Left.

"I think it constitutes a victory for Parliament. A majority of the members of Parliament had expressed themselves against the deal. It's a triumph for all of us in Parliament."

"The Prime Minister should have seen reason long before and dumped the (nuclear) deal. He first took a tough stand and has now detracted," said the BJP leader.

He, however, suspects the deal has been placed in suspended animation with an eye on the Gujarat elections. "I won't be surprised if the Americans have been told this (statement by the Prime Minister) is only a temporary halt. I will not rule out the possibility of this government trying to revive the deal."

Kamal Mitra Chenoy, a professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, feels the nuclear deal will be stuck till Lok Sabha elections in May 2009. According to him, a new President in the US is likely to be a Democrat because of which the deal would have to be re-opened.

"I think so," he said when asked whether this was a victory for the Left parties.

Chenoy, however, says the deal itself was "subsidiary" to the Left's overall concerns. "Basically, it was a strategic shift towards the US that bothered the Left parties."

Since July 2005, when the nuclear deal with the US was agreed upon, it has been central to the political discourse in the country. From then, a lot of India's international effort has been to lobby support for the deal with key players abroad.

Now, with the deal stuck in the morass of domestic politics, India has little to say on this issue till the Left remains opposed to the initiative.

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