Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Visits to India Keep Nuclear Deal Alive

* Guest post from star Center intern, Colleen Garcia

Despite seemingly widespread Congressional belief that the U.S.-India nuclear deal is either dead or dormant, continuing visits to India by international leaders and authoritative U.S. policymakers prove that it is, in fact, very much alive.

Many members of Congress - notably excluding those directly involved in relations with India - believe that the U.S.-India deal is a non-issue due to either domestic opposition from the Communist Party in India, or to the belief that Congress already played its part by drawing up and passing the Hyde Act in 2006. Many in Congress believe, then, that whether or not the U.S.-India nuclear deal moves forward is now entirely up to India, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to India last week is only the latest in what has been an inexhaustible parade of visits from well-respected domestic and world leaders that reads like the "Who's Who" of nuclear energy advocates. Along with these visits has come enough acute pressure on opponents of the deal to tempt even the most stalwart critics to buckle.

In the past few months, India has been courted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, U.S. Ambassador David Mulford, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Biden, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, and Canada's High Commissioner to India, David M. Malone. As only one example of the pressure language used during these visits, upon leaving India Sen. Biden announced, "it was critical if India wanted that deal, that they move on it relatively soon, within a matter of weeks."

For its part, the Indian government has been doing its best to heighten interest in civilian nuclear cooperation with India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose UPA party is strongly in favor of the U.S.-India nuclear deal, has made official visits to both
Russia and China, with nuclear energy always a topic of discussion. These moves have only reinforced and encouraged further efforts to seal the nuclear deal.

Instead of a wait and see situation, which Congress expects to see while India, the IAEA, and the NSG make their decisions on the deal, what we are actually seeing is escalating pressure from the U.S., the Indian government, and outside nations to complete negotiations. Pressure to complete the U.S.-India nuclear deal will subside once congressional and presidential elections take over the legislative calendar, but the growing frequency of official visits suggests an intensification of outside pressure to get the deal done before then. Thus, Congress's immediate involvement is more necessary than ever.

Whether members know it or not, Congress still has an enormous role to play in finalizing the U.S.-India nuclear deal. Congress must ultimately approve the final draft of the nuclear deal, and if there is any hope of a rejection, U.S. Congressional opposition will have to start flexing its political muscle.

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