10 March, 2008

quick! before a Democrat's in the White House . . .

NEW DELHI, Feb 22 (IPS) - With the presidential race gathering momentum in the United States, a last ditch effort is being mounted to push through the controversial U.S.-India nuclear cooperation deal, before the window of political opportunity slams shut in Washington.

The latest impetus for this comes through a meeting that three top-level visiting U.S. senators, led by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Feb. 20, during which they warned that time is running out for Indian leaders to complete the necessary steps before the agreement can be ratified by Congress.

Biden said he told Singh that "it was critical if India wanted that deal, that they move on it relatively soon, within a matter of weeks. You cannot run the clock out and expect us to be able to get it done’’.

The senators said that unless India sends the deal back to Washington, preferably by early May, and latest by early June, it would be practically impossible for U.S. Congress to ratify it: "If it is not ratified by Congress by July-end (when Senate goes into recess), there is no prospect" of it being ratified during the tenure of the Bush administration.

Biden was accompanied by John Kerry, Massachusetts senator and the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, and Chuck Hagel, a leading Republican, from Nebraska.

Biden also warned: "If we do not have the deal now, it is highly unlikely that the next president will present the same deal to India.’’

NEW DELHI, Mar 6 (IPS) - Is the Indian government heading for a showdown with the domestic opposition on the controversial issue of the nuclear cooperation deal with the United States before the presidential election timetable closes that opportunity?

Going by the recent pronouncements of U.S. officials urging a May deadline to complete the deal, by statements by leaders of India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and by the Left parties’ latest reactions to them, that would indeed seem to be the case.

As the government seemingly ups the ante, the Left is reportedly considering issuing it an end-March ultimatum to decide on the deal, or face withdrawal of its crucial support, which would put the ruling coalition into a parliamentary minority.

The general secretary of the Communist Party of India -Marxist (CPI-M), the Left’s leading party, has written a letter to Mukherjee demanding a meeting of the special joint committee of the UPA and the Left on the deal by Mar.15.

Besides feverish U.S. lobbying, the impression that a final confrontation on the deal may be around the corner is strengthened by media reports which suggest that a section of the UPA wants to bow to U.S. pressure and seize the chance to complete negotiations on the deal so that it can be ratified by the Senate by the end of July.

. . .

"Within the past 10 days, both domestic and external factors which favour the deal have got strengthened," says a political source close to senior leaders of the Congress party, which leads the UPA, who insisted on anonymity.

"But on balance," says the source, "it is still not clear if the Congress’s top brass will want to sever the UPA’s relationship with the Left parties whose support it needs for a parliamentary majority."

. . . visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher tried to allay fears about a domestic U.S. law passed by Congress in 2006, called the Hyde Act, which enables the deal on certain conditions. The Act is a subject of much controversy in India, and mandates the U.S. government to cease nuclear cooperation with India, if India conducts a nuclear test.

India's opposition maintains that the Act trumps the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement signed last July between India and the U.S., called the "123 agreement" because it pertains to section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act. Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice affirmed the supremacy of the Hyde Act and said the U.S. government would work within its bounds.

But Boucher backed the Indian government’s view that "we can move forward" with both the Act and the 123 agreement "in a consistent manner"; the Act is nothing to worry about.

. . .

"U.S. officials have conveyed two clear messages to India," says M.V. Ramana, a nuclear analyst based at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Environment and Development in Bangalore. "First, there is only a small window of opportunity for the deal if it is to be passed by Congress while President Bush is in power. So India must make up its mind very quickly."

The second message, adds Ramana, "is that the Bush administration has done its very best to facilitate the deal in the U.S. India should expect nothing more. Equally, India must be clear that the first commercial contracts from the deal should go to U.S. companies."

That explains part of the hurry to push the deal through. . . .

"This won't be an easy choice to make," argues Achin Vanaik. "A majority of parties in Parliament are opposed to the deal. This will compromise its legitimacy. If the Left withdraws support, the UPA will have to call an early election. But there is no guarantee that the UPA will not need the Left’s support yet again." link

& from an article last September:

The sequencing and timing of the process is being largely determined by the domestic political calculations of the Bush administration, which is heavily invested in the deal. The administration would like to present the agreement for the Congress’s ratification soon after its winter break.

"This only leaves a narrow window of opportunity for pushing the deal quickly through Congress," says M.V. Ramana, an independent nuclear affairs analyst at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, Bangalore. "Clearly, the Bush administration feels that it can use the deal before the next Presidential election in favour of the Republican Party by touting it as a major foreign policy achievement -- in contrast to Iraq and Afghanistan. That's why it seems to be in a hurry to speed up the negotiations process." link

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