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US biz backs nuke deal with India

American industry has begun a hectic lobbying for nuclear pact with India.

world Updated: Jan 01, 2006 17:22 IST

American industry has started hectic lobbying with the US administration to create legislation to push ahead the civilian nuclear pact with India so that it can sell nuclear technology to meet New Delhi's burgeoning energy needs.

Aware that countries like Russia, France and Canada are waiting on the sidelines to offer India civilian nuclear technology, American firms have launched a campaign for the administration to table legislation in Congress on the nuclear pact with India, and to get Congress then to ratify the change to the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, that prohibits trade in nuclear technologies with non-members of NPT.

When Congress returns from recess at the end of January, it is likely face an onslaught of lobbying from American businesses, including the US India Business Council that has 176 of the largest US companies that have invested in India as its members.

They know the advantages of having open season on nuclear technology trade with India, a country trapped by its energy limitations and wanting to grow its energy resources exponentially and quickly.

But the American firms also know it is not going to be an easy ride as many in Congress have not made up their minds on whether it is a good thing to make India an exception to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"We at the USIBC (US-India Business Council) are mobilising with the US Chamber of Commerce's Coalition on India. And we have hired Patton Boggs (lobbying firm) to convey our views to Congress," USIBC president Ron Somers told IANS.

On Dec 13, USIBC announced twin initiatives to promote enactment of legislation needed to implement the landmark July 18 agreement between India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush for the transfer of civilian nuclear technology to India.

On one hand, USIBC employed the leading lobbying firm of Patton Boggs to pursue the ultimate objective of full-scale civilian nuclear cooperation with India, "recognising that India is a secular and stable democracy that has earned trust on non-proliferation".

To complement its advocacy effort on Capitol Hill, the US Chamber of Commerce, the umbrella organisation for some three million American companies, has agreed to host the Coalition for Partnership with India (CPI). CPI will coordinate the efforts of parties that strongly support a positive outcome of civilian nuclear technology transfer legislation.

"Everybody is interested in advancing legislation. Everybody is aware nothing is on the table. Everybody would like to know what 'it' is going to look like," Somers conceded.

"Clearly, the administration knows what it needs to look like. Meanwhile, India has to actively separate its (civil and military nuclear) facilities. What the sequence is and how to go from committee to committee in Congress - I think all sides are doing due diligence on that."

Washington and New Delhi are playing a delicate balancing act to make sure neither overshoots the other in meeting the phased approach that is supposed to make the July 18 agreement a reality.

The agreement's key aspect on full civilian nuclear cooperation requires Congress to change the US Atomic Energy Act that prohibits trade in nuclear technologies with non-members of NPT.

For Bush to keep his promise requires India to submit a credible plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities, a plan that is on the anvil and a draft of which was seemingly brought to Washington just before Christmas by Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.

Somers believes NPT diehards could have been more rigid in their stand against the agreement.

"There's no question that everyone from the NPT camp would have wanted a better deal negotiated. But...it is interesting that they have been quite moderate in their reaction," he noted.

But things are not going to be hunky-dory, he remarked. "I'm not even suggesting it's going to be easy. It's going to be a tremendous struggle. It is the first exception (to the NPT). On the other hand, we are bringing India into the fold of NPT. A third of the NPT is going to be followed to the letter," he contended.

The agreement meant Washington would "embrace India as a true partner". And it better do that fast, Somers implied.

India currently has a huge energy deficit. Of the 100,000 MW it currently generates, only 2,000 MW are from nuclear power.

"There's a 20,000 MW of opportunity there since India wants to expand its nuclear energy capacity tenfold," Somers calculated. Plus there are the existing areas where refuelling needs exist.

"Those opportunities will go to other countries if America does not participate," Somers warned. "Russia, France, and Canada are ready. India is moving forward already," but he argued American business was looking beyond just energy security and opportunities.

"We are looking to unlock a whole future of unlimited commercial opportunities. And its more than just about making business. It's about long-term relations based on trust."

First Published: Jan 01, 2006 14:54 IST