Wall Street Journal
May 15, 2008
By Jay Solomon in Washington and Peter Wonacott in New Delhi
A nuclear-cooperation pact between the U.S. and India is unlikely to get completed before the Bush administration leaves office early next year, U.S. officials now believe.
The lack of action would represent a further unraveling of President Bush's foreign-policy agenda, which has been plagued by instability in Iraq and Afghanistan.
State Department officials have said the Indian Parliament would need to ratify New Delhi's commitment to the agreement by June in order for Congress to have the time to pass the nuclear pact into U.S. law before Mr. Bush leaves office. But a lack of action in India in recent months is leading many in Washington to believe the Bush administration has run out of time.
Some U.S. officials believe the Indian government already is looking ahead to a new U.S. administration. "It is not unusual as one approaches the end of an administration for foreign nations to look at proposed agreements and see a much larger benefit to concluding it under the incoming" president, said a U.S. official working on proliferation issues.
The accord would offer India, the world's sixth-largest energy consumer, U.S. nuclear technology and fuel. In return, India would open its civilian reactors to international inspectors. Some Indian security analysts have argued that India can get better energy deals elsewhere.
And there are signs the Indian government is hedging its bets among a diverse group of energy suppliers. Last month, India hosted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran -- which the U.S. accuses of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons -- to help spur a number of new energy projects. At a news conference, President Ahmadinejad said India and Iran would move ahead on a $7 billion pipeline project with Pakistan. India also is seeking to buy millions of tons of liquefied natural gas each year from Iran.
The U.S.-India deal, proposed by Mr. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005, was conceived as a centerpiece for a strategic partnership between the two countries. India and the U.S. have had a rocky relationship for much of the last half century. But as China's influence in Asia has increased, and India's market has opened, the Clinton and Bush administrations have edged closer to the world's largest democracy.
Other countries also have lent support, with the goal of bringing India into a nuclear-regulatory regimen and selling it fuel as well as equipment. Business communities of both India and the U.S. have thrown their weight behind the agreement, largely because of the anticipated boon to trade. Some U.S. companies hope to sell sensitive civilian and military technology to India, a market the pact would have opened as restrictions on certain exports from the U.S. were eased.
In one such deal, Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and other U.S. equipment suppliers are vying to win bids to help build 126 fighter jets for the Indian air force. The deal is valued at an estimated $6 billion to $8 billion.
The nuclear agreement has encountered resistance in India, mainly from allies of Mr. Singh's government. Leftist politicians have objected to an accord that locks India into a strategic and economic embrace with an unpopular superpower. They have vowed to withdraw support from Mr. Singh's Congress Party-led coalition if the government continues to push ahead with the deal. A representative of Mr. Singh couldn't be reached for comment.