N-deal signals India's coming of age

Experts say the deal will pave way for New Delhi to access nuke technology from other countries as well.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2006 10:49 IST

A proposed nuclear deal that could be signed during US President George W Bush's visit to India this week would not only meet the energy-starved country's demand for power but also signal its acceptance into an elite club of trusted nuclear states, analysts say.

The two have been negotiating on the issue for months and are trying urgently to bridge remaining differences so the agreement can be inked during Bush's trip, which begins on Wednesday.

The nuclear deal is "important because if it comes through, the technology denial regime that we faced for the past 30 years will go away," said Arundhati Ghosh, India's former representative to the Conference on Disarmament.

According to CU Bhaskar, the deputy director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, the successful conclusion of the nuclear deal would mean "recognition of India as a relevant power, as a responsible nuclear weapons state."

Clinching the deal with Washington would be "a very big plus" as it paves the way for New Delhi to access nuclear technology from other countries as well.

India has lately redoubled its efforts to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. It is also a regular invitee at the meetings of the Group of Eight industrialised nations.

"For India, the symbolism of being admitted into the global fold of nuclear states is enormous," Bhaskar said.

"More than the nuclear weapon, it is the access to the loop of global nuclear commerce -- obtaining the uranium ore fuel that India is in dire need of -- and related hi-tech not just from the US but other states such as Russia and France that is crucial.

"If the deal goes through it has the potential to influence the global strategic architecture of the early part of 21st century," he added.

"From the point of view of public perception, irrespective of the substance, the visit will be seen as unsuccessful if the nuclear deal does not go through," said Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to the United States.

If the nuclear deal comes through, it will enable India to rely less on oil as its economy expands between seven to eight per cent a year, he said.

"It means access to technology and commerce that has been long been denied to India," Mansingh said.

Under a preliminary agreement reached during a visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington in July, India has to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes in return for access to civilian nuclear technology it has been denied for almost three decades.

Those reactors placed under the civilian programme will be open to international inspection.

The deal commits Washington to get approval from the US Congress and countries forming the 44-member Nuclear Suppliers Group to lift restrictions on India -- which has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- in the civilian nuclear technology trade.

Several rounds of talks have been held between US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and his Indian counterpart Shyam Saran but officials have made it clear differences remain.

Talks have been mired over Washington's demand that India put more reactors on a list of civilian nuclear facilities to be placed under international scrutiny -- which Indian scientists say will effectively cap the country's nuclear weapons programme.

US nuclear experts fear that India is keeping its "fast breeder" reactors out of the list of civilian reactors open to inspections as they are particularly suitable for the production of weapons grade plutonium.

On Monday, Singh told Parliament that India would put about 65 per cent of its listed nuclear power capacity under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, but would not place an experimental fast breeder reactor programme under outside inspection.

First Published: Feb 28, 2006 10:47 IST