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'Indo-US nuke deal in for long haul'

UK will wait till US Congress ratifies it before going in for a nuclear relationship with India, say experts.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2006 18:48 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar (IANS)
Prasun Sonwalkar (IANS)

British experts have welcomed the India-US nuclear agreement reached during the visit of President George W Bush to New Delhi, but believe it will be a long haul before it goes through the US Congress and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

As a key member of the NSG, Britain will prefer to wait until the US Congress ratifies it before putting in place a full-scale nuclear relationship with India, Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior faculty member at the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies said.

"We need to be realistic. The agreement merely provides a road map to the real deal in July 2005 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the US. That agreement was historic in the real sense, not this one," he said.

After the July 2005 agreement, Britain had eased sanctions against India relating to civilian nuclear energy. The government had notified parliament about the significant changes in its laws regarding the export of dual use nuclear technologies to India.

Official sources said Britain had been closely involved in the negotiations that ultimately led to the July 2005 agreement, and would continue to influence negotiations as a key member of the NSG.

"Britain's role now is more at the level of the NSG, but first we need to see if the deal can be sold to the US Congress and then to the NSG. Britain will change its policies further according to what happens in the US Congress.

"Until the agreement passes through the US Congress, I don't expect the UK to deliver nuclear technology to India. There is still some way to go before full civilian nuclear cooperation is put in place," Roy-Chaudhury said.

Russia and France, he said, were better positioned to take advantage of the Indian nuclear energy market than the US or Britain. Russia had provided nuclear reactors in the past while France had of late aggressively positioned itself in selling nuclear reactors to India.

Lee Robin, a London-based expert on international relations, said the deal "goes some way to easing relations between India, the UK and the West generally, perhaps signalling the absolute end of India's non-alignment.

"(Prime Minister) Tony Blair is facing his own test over the proposed expansion of nuclear energy sources at home. His angle on the deal - and domestic energy proposals - is not militaristic, but gives a nod to 'energy security' indicating that the 'war on terror' must be also fought by diversifying energy sources and becoming less reliant on the turbulent Middle East".

Robin, however, observed that despite the positive hyperbole, other strategic concerns had not been addressed - in public at least. The deal risked straining ties between an under-pressure Pakistani leadership and the West generally, he added.

"Domestically, while the deal will not strike a chord with the majority of UK citizens, the sizeable Muslim minority in the country may well be upset about the perceived double standards regarding the treatment of Indian and Iranian nuclear ambitions," Robin said.

Clinching of the deal did not make front-page news in the British news media.
The Times' foreign editor called it a "welcome end to India's pariah status" and, noting objections to the deal, added, "There is more good in the deal than the objections admit".

The Guardian reported the deal with the headline, "Bush woos India with nuclear deal and trade pacts: Visit a breakthrough for outcast country."

French President Jacques Chirac, who signed a similar deal with India last month, told the BBC that the agreement would help fight climate change and non-proliferation efforts.

First Published: Mar 04, 2006 18:48 IST