India to sell N-deal to world, soothe critics
Analysts say India will take its civilian nuclear deal with the US to the world looking to secure fuel supplies and reactor technology.Updated: Sep 08, 2008 14:55 IST
India will take its civilian nuclear deal with the United States to the world looking to secure fuel supplies and reactor technology, analysts said, while seeking to soothe critics with a strong non-proliferation pitch.
But it is unlikely India will launch formal nuclear trade negotiations ahead of the new deal's ratification by the US Congress, given the strong backing from Washington that helped seal the deal.
The 45 nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on Saturday backed a US proposal and adopted a one-off waiver of a 34-year-old global ban on nuclear trade with India, allowing New Delhi and Washington to do business.
Congressional approval is the final hurdle for the agreement, seen as the cornerstone of India-US relations and essential to India's rising energy needs to power its booming economy.
The deal could come up for a vote in Congress this month. In the meantime, India could open informal negotiations for nuclear reactors and uranium supplies.
Robinder Sachdev, president of public diplomacy think tank Imagindia, said he expected India would adopt a two-pronged approach: making public announcements on disarmament, while lobbying the two houses of Congress and overseas Indian groups.
Critics, many of them in the US Congress, believe the deal undermines efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and sets a precedent allowing other nations to seek to buy such technology without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"The onus of seeing the deal through is on the Bush administration," Sachdev said.
"But India being a stakeholder will do its bit, and public pronouncements couched in strong disarmament language may help assuage the non-proliferation lobby."
Analysts said that although India would not like to be seen hurrying into any nuclear business deals until the US agreement is closed, the one-off NSG waiver means it is free to trade on the world market.
"Technically India can talk with non-US nuclear vendors, but it is highly unlikely because the US will not like it, and it will want a level playing field," Bharat Karnad, an Indian strategic affairs expert, told Reuters on Monday.
What India could do is launch a simultaneous diplomatic offensive to woo uranium suppliers such as Australia, who see the controversial India-US nuclear deal as counter-productive to global non-proliferation efforts, analysts said.
The NSG waiver has been welcomed by Indian businesses. Indian shares opened 4 percent up on Monday with power sector shares rising between 4 per cent and 10 per cent in opening trade.
Industry lobby group the Confederation of Indian Industry said it expected about $27 billion in investment in 18-20 new nuclear power plants over the next 15 years.
While the deal holds the key to unlocking billions of dollars worth of nuclear business, it is a potential political minefield for India's Congress party, which heads the ruling coalition and survived a parliamentary vote on the pact in July.
The vote was marred by allegations that the government tried to bribe opposition members into either voting in favour or abstaining.
Analysts say the deal will likely be an issue in Indian elections due by May, with opposition parties accusing the government of having signed away India's nuclear sovereignty and independent foreign policy.
But for the government, the immediate concern is the shortening US legislative calendar.
Time is running out on the agreement given that Congress is expected to adjourn by the end of September so lawmakers can campaign for the November 4 US presidential election.