It is now or never for India-US n-deal: William Cohen


New Delhi : Setting a January deadline for activating the India-US civilian nuclear deal, a former American official says commercial links will continue to grow but military ties would be “retarded” if the pact collapsed as the new dispensation in Washington would not revive it.

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“We are pretty close to now or never. Unless the 123 agreement and the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) waiver is in place by end-January, the deal will die,” William Cohen, who was the defence secretary in the administration of former president Bill Clinton, said during a select media interaction here Friday.

“There is not much time before the political dynamics of the US changes. If India rejects or ignores the deal, then it will not be brought up by another administration, be it Democratic or Republican,” the head of The Cohen Group contended.

“What will also happen is that India will be seen as an unreliable partner, a tag that has hitherto been applied to us. Commercial contacts might go up but there will be some retardation in our strategic relations,” Cohen added.

He also indicated there would be a slowdown in US efforts to improve India’s strategic ties with China, Japan and Australia.

Strident objections of India’s Left parties that support the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have put the brakes on a series of measures that were to be taken to make the deal operational.

These included negotiation of a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), seeking a waiver from the NSG to enable the resumption of nuclear commerce after a 30-year hiatus and finally negotiating the 123 agreement.

Despite Manmohan Singh, as also US President George Bush backing the nuclear deal to the hilt, negotiations have been put on hold on all these aspects.

With the primaries for the US presidential elections set to begin early next year, Cohen maintained that the new administration that will take office in 2009 “will not, in its first four years, bring up the deal”.

“Even if the Republicans return, the deal will be seen as a Bush initiative and any new administration will want their own stamp on it. The opposition will say it has questions and wants a closer examination of the details. So, it’s very much now or never,” he contended.

Expanding on the implications of the deal collapsing, he indicated this would impact on India’s bid to play a greater role on the global stage.

“India can play a major role on the world stage. But with growing power comes growing responsibility (for implementing measures like the nuclear deal), If that responsibility is not exercised, there can be unforeseeable consequences,” Cohen maintained.

Asked whether he thought India and the US had moved too fast on the nuclear deal, Cohen said: “Leadership is being able to calibrate how fast you can move. You can’t be so far in front that you lose support.”