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Nuke deal hogs limelight in Indo-US relations

Washington, (IRNA-PTI) — The Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and rumblings over the controversial pact tested bilateral relations in 2007 which also saw the two countries chart a new course in hi-tech and defence cooperation and technology transfer.

The year 2007 did not turn out to be much different than 2006 in that much of the time was spent on figuring out whether Washington and New Delhi will come to terms with the so-called 123 Agreement that would formalize the Henry J. Hyde Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act that the President George W. Bush signed into law in the closing days of 2006.

For a full six months or a little over after the 123 Agreement or the HR 5682 of 2006 was signed into law the governments in Washington and New Delhi saw negotiators on both sides wrestle with the intricacies of the subject that was not merely pegged to technical or legal aspects of an agreement but interjecting quite forcefully in the realm of politics as well in India.

In the realm of defence cooperation the “hot transfer” of the USS Trenton, the Landing Platform Dock to the Indian Navy on January 17,2007 was seen as a significant event. With a displacement of approx. 17,000 tons, the LPD is set to be the second largest ship with the Indian Navy, after the aircraft carrier Viraat.

The ship will add punch to India’s maritime forces with its capacity to participate in naval, peacekeeping and tri-service operations and humanitarian relief.

It has an unrivalled capacity to carry close to a battalion strength troops and sustain them over a long duration. Ambassador Ronen Sen commissioned the ship as the
INS Jalashwa on June 22, 2007.

The legislation to facilitate a new and expanded era in bilateral relations between India and the US was passed on the last day of the lame duck session of the 109th Congress
in the final days of 2006 did not mean that lingering suspicions were removed with the thumping nods from the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

Some law makers in the United States remained unconvinced as did a section of the political and scientific community in India on what it is that the Hyde Act did or did not do with the Joint Statements of the Political leaders of India and the United States of July 18,2005 and March 2,2006.

But the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar, has hailed the bill as advancing the President’s “most important strategic diplomatic initiative” and throughout 2007 the business and the economic communities saw the Hyde Act and the aftermath as the first major step in the process of moving towards bilateral nuclear commerce.

The essence of the disagreement between specific communities in India and the United States was captured very eloquently by the Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, one of the key players in the Bush administration on the civilian nuclear initiative who argued that in any democracy there is bound to be dissent and people on the opposite sides of the barricade.

“In any large democratic society like ours two, you are always going to have people who are on the opposite sides of the barricade.

But I think we have really won the mass
majority of opinion in both India and in the United States,” Burns said in one of his many sessions with reporters on the subject.

The breakthrough that negotiators from India and the United States had over the 123 Agreement in July 2007 was truly an achievement for there was in a five day period every indication that either Washington or New Delhi was simply going to walk away. But stubborn persistence and valuable inputs from the highest political echelons enabled the two sides to achieve what the political leadership had aimed for.

The excitement in Washington soon gave way to a sense of disbelief to how soon sections of the political community in India would hammer away at an accord that had been so meticulously worked through to the point of raising fundamental questions about the very survivability of an initiative that has been labored through the two political systems for two and a half years.

For the record the Bush administration has maintained that the civilian nuclear initiative has to work through the Indian democratic process but few in America including prominent members of the Indian American community are under any illusions of what is in store for the accord should it be dragged through aimlessly in the second session of the 110th Congress.

Given the way the bill has been written the nuclear deal must once again be approved by Congress after India and the International Atomic nergy Agency have worked out an accord on the safeguards and the 45 Member Nuclear Suppliers Group giving its stamp of approval.

It is not an exaggeration to say that all eyes of the
administration, the business community and the Indian American community are on whether Congress is presented the opportunity to look at the civilian nuclear deal once again in the early months of 2008 for after which law makers will be so engrossed in the intricacies of the Presidential and Congressional elections of Nov 2008 that floor managers and schedulers will find the going difficult, to say the least.