US, India to cooperate even if nuclear agreement falters

Washington, Feb 28 | Updated: Mar 1 2006, 06:09am hrs
If the US and India fail to resolve differences over a civilian nuclear deal when President George W. Bush visits New Delhi this week, cooperation between the two nations will still continue in many other areas, officials and experts said.

The nuclear deal, agreed in principle last July, would give India access to US civilian nuclear technology and experts say New Delhi views this a litmus test of improving US-India ties. But the two sides are at odds over a plan to separate Indias civilian and military facilities, subjecting civilian sites to international inspections while the military sites remain off-limits.

The pressure is on to reach a deal by the time Mr Bush arrives in New Delhi, but a formula outlined by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh falls short of Mr Bushs stated criteria. The Indians are holding fast to a position that is inconsistent with stated US objectives for an agreement that is credible, transparent and defensible, Robert Einhorn, a US former non-proliferation official, told Reuters.

Washingtons aim is to prevent US and other foreign technology from being used in Indias nuclear weapons program. Dr Singh told Parliament his governments proposal would put nuclear reactors that generate about 65% of atomic power under international scrutiny. But India would not accept such safeguards on its experimental fast-breeder reactor program, a major sticking point in negotiations. Mr Einhorn said this shows that instead of leaving themselves with the capacity to produce 6-10 bombs a year, the Indians will have instead a capacity to produce close to 50 bombs a year if they choose to do it.

Robert Blackwill, a former US ambassador to India who is Indias US lobbyist, said if there is no agreement by the summit, it would have a very negative effect on the India elite and the Indian people for years.

Michael Green, Mr Bushs former Asia adviser, said he was more optimistic ... about ...the sustainability of this (US-India) relationship, with or without the nuclear deal.

Although a delayed nuclear deal could slow improvement in US-India ties, experts said the two countries are involved at so many other levels, including in defense and business, that Mr Bushs vision of a strategic partnership would continue. Defense ties are the unstated foundation of US-Indian relations and will expand substantially over time, former Pentagon official Kurt Campbell said recently.

Th e US and Indian military have accelerated training exercises in the Asia-Pacific region and US companies are now competing to sell India advanced jet fighters, he said.

Mr Blackwill said Indias modernization also involves acquiring four aircraft carriers. He stressed the value of ties with Indias million-man army, the most experienced in combat after the US and Britain. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said he was gathering support for a congressional resolution opposing the nuclear deal.