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The US India Nuclear Deal Signals A New Big Power Relationship

The Indian Ocean is increasingly under Indian management, led by a fast-growing navy that is buying advanced French-made Scorpene "stealth" submarines. The United States sees India as a key strategic partner and as a potential balance against China's potential dominance of Asia, and is prepared to equip India for the role. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Martin Walker
UPI Editor Emeritus
Washington DC (UPI) July 25, 2007
It is a striking coincidence that the Indian and U.S. governments should have announced the successful conclusion of their long-stalled nuclear cooperation deal in the same week that India established its first overseas military base. India's new base, an electronic listening post and radar station on the island of Madagascar, is perfectly situated to monitor the international waterways around South Africa and the Indian Ocean with its oil tanker routes to Asia.

India has also leased an atoll from Mauritius on which a similar facility is to be built. Its navy has secured berthing rights in Oman, and signed an agreement last year to patrol the Mozambique coast. In 2003, the Indian navy provided seaward protection for the African Union summit at Mozambique.

The Indian Ocean is increasingly under Indian management, led by a fast-growing navy that is buying advanced French-made Scorpene "stealth" submarines and has just acquired its first ever U.S. warship, the former USS Trenton, a large amphibious transport and landing ship, along with U.S. UH-3H helicopters. Three months ago, India completed a $1.1 billion deal with the United States for Hercules military transport.

The United States sees India as a key strategic partner and as a potential balance against China's potential dominance of Asia, and is prepared to equip India for the role. Already one of the world's biggest customers for arms, spending over $10 billion in the last three years, India is now planning to buy 126 multi-role combat jets. The US F-16 and F/A-18 Super Hornet are seen as the main contenders in a deal that could be worth another $10 billion. A new study by India's Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, "Private Sector Participation in Defense," suggests that India's imports of military hard and software should reach $30 billion by 2012.

This is the strategic context for the nuclear deal, which ends the isolation from the nuclear community that was imposed on India when it staged its first nuclear tests in 1998, and will allow India to import nuclear fuels and technology under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This will be important for India's civilian nuclear power program, but its main impact is symbolic in asserting the new closeness of the U.S. strategic partnership.

The deal has been stalled over some of the terms imposed by the U.S. Congress under the Hyde Act, which sought to impose certain restrictions on India. The first was to hold the deal hostage, allowing it to be suspended if India staged more nuclear tests. The second was to bring some, but not all, of India's nuclear rectors under the intensive inspection regime of the NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The most authoritative opposition to the deal has come from Peter Iyengar, former chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, who listed his concerns in an exclusive United Press International interview at his home in New Delhi with this reporter in February this year.

"As currently drafted, the agreement would force us to stop re-processing nuclear fuel, something we have been doing for thirty years," Iyengar said. "It would terminate our strategic program (India's nuclear weapons program) by exposing us to sanctions if we conducted nuclear tests. And it puts impossible barriers in our path to ongoing and future research, including our well-developed programs for fast-breeder reactors and to use thorium rather than uranium as a nuclear fuel," he added.

"By saying that India shall not re-process fuel and not develop the fast-breeder reactors, this deal undermines our ability to produce energy in the future when uranium runs out," Dr Iyengar went on. "This is a question of national sovereignty, of India's right and ability to decide such things for ourselves."

The Hyde Act was designed to be watertight, but somehow the Bush administration has managed to accommodate India's concerns. This was done, to widespread surprise last week, when Vice President Dick Cheney took personal charge of the talks in Washington with India's National Security adviser M.K. Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and Anil Kakodkar, secretary of India's Department of Atomic Energy

Menon was packed and about to check out from his hotel when Cheney intervened and brought Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice into the final phase of talks, which opened with Cheney saying, "This deal must be done." The White House national security adviser Steven Hadley was also brought into the talks to fine tune the text of a document called "The 123 agreement" that spells out the details of the deal.

The precise terms have not yet been made public, and the final document is a frozen text, which means that it can now only be voted up or down, and not amended further. According to U.S. sources, it is based on Cheney's traditionally robust view of the president's prerogative over foreign policy and strategic issues, and allows George W. Bush or future presidents to give India a form of waiver under the terms of the Hyde Act when supreme U.S. national interests are deemed to be at stake.

The Democratic-controlled Congress may have doubts about this, but potential presidential candidates may see its usefulness. The increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court, with two new Bush-appointed justices, is likely to sympathize with Cheney's view of the presidential prerogative.

The deal has been strongly backed by the wealthy and influential Indian community in the United States. Sanjay Puri, chairman of the U.S.-India Political Action Committee commented: "The United States and India have achieved what everyone thought was impossible when President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced their plan for a civil nuclear agreement in July 2005. Exactly two years later, the two nations have not only reached an agreement, but created a lifelong partnership between two nations that are committed to democratic principles and the idea of energy independence."

This also seals the presence on the world stage of India's emergence as a regional superpower in Asia, while becoming a close U.S. ally and a major economic and technological force. Next month, India will launch its first dedicated military reconnaissance satellite, CARTOSAT 2A, on one of its own launch vehicles. Two more advanced imaging satellites with Israeli synthetic aperture radars are to be launched next year for all-weather monitoring of Asian airspace, including China

It may also not be a coincidence that these developments come as China is upgrading its ballistic missile facility at central-north Delingha, where launch pads for older Dong Feng-4 intercontinental ballistic missiles are being modernized for new DF-21 medium-range missiles. A report this month by the Nuclear Information Project for the Federation of American Scientists concluded that the DF-21s "would be able to hold at risk all of northern India, including New Delhi."

Source: United Press International

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