Stalling of N-deal dents India’s image, NSG cooling off

By Manish Chand, IANS

Johannesberg/New Delhi : The Indian government’s inability to implement its nuclear trade deal with the US has dented its image abroad, especially among Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) countries, that were bracing themselves for the opening of India’s lucrative civil nuclear market.

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With the Leftist allies blocking the deal, the government has not only put negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on hold but its ties with the 45-nation NSG are also in danger of eroding as major world capitals, specially those of NSG countries, are turning perceptibly frosty towards India.

“It’s affecting our image abroad. The world will now question India’s ability to take any major agreement or initiative with international ramifications like the nuclear deal,” a highly-placed official source, who recently travelled with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Nigeria and South Africa, told IANS.

“It’s not just about the prestige of this government. The world was looking at us with a new respect. Every Indian should feel worried about the stalling of the nuclear deal,” the source said, indicating that despite the government’s face-saving talk, the stalled deal was affecting India’s international standing.

While returning home after attending the IBSA summit in Thursday, Manmohan Singh Thursday admitted to journalists that there was a “setback,” but added that the deal was not dead yet as the process of evolving a political consensus was still on. He, however, ruled out his resignation and failed to give a concrete deadline for implementing the nuclear deal.

“When something does not work out the way you plan it, it does have an effect,” Manmohan Singh replied when asked whether the impasse over the deal has affected India’s image in the international community.

The cooling off of NSG countries towards the nuclear deal was evident at the second IBSA summit held Wednesday in Pretoria.

“It’s a work in progress,” South African President Thabo Mbeki said when asked about his country’s stand on supporting India in the NDG. “Discussions are going on,” was all Brazilian President Lula da Silva said, although both offered India cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Asked the same question later while on his way back from Pretoria, Manmohan Singh forthrightly admitted the NSG comes in the picture only after political problems are resolved at home.

In France, two months after the July 18, 2005 civil nuclear agreement, there was so much enthusiasm that a top representative of the French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who was then in opposition, came to India and spoke about the upbeat mood in the French industry about the opening of India’s nuclear market. “But now the same enthusiasm may not be there,” the source added.

“When the whole world is going nuclear and is ready to integrate us into the global nuclear order, we are stuck with narrow politics,” the source said, giving a peep into the mounting frustration in the government over the stalling of the nuclear deal.

France, which depends on nuclear energy for 80 per cent of its power needs, was one of the first countries to wholeheartedly support the nuclear deal and promised support in the NSG.

Russia, considered a time-tested friend of India, is also turning cold with the news of the deal going into deep freezer due to domestic problems.

When External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee went to Moscow recently, he could not meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov as the latter was pre-occupied with other meetings.

The meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin also didn’t materialise.

While the government has chosen to downplay this snub citing time constraints, it is also seen as evidence of the waning of enthusiasm in the Russian political establishment for the nuclear deal, specially as Mukherjee’s visit to Moscow was aimed at firming up the agenda for Manmohan Singh’s visit to Russia next month.

During Putin’s visit to India last year, Russia had offered its support in the NSG and agreed to help India in the building of four additional nuclear reactors at Kudankulam. Moscow was expecting business worth billions of dollars with the opening of India’s civil nuclear market, but now business-savvy Moscow is hedging its bets.