Jun 1, 2007

Not the end of the World

Starfor reports that Washington appears to be preparing New Delhi for disappointment by giving quiet assurances that the United States is still firmly committed to pursuing a strategic partnership with India even if the nuclear deal falls through.

When asked how close Indian and U.S. negotiators are in sealing a pending civilian nuclear deal, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said May 31, "we're almost there." Burns is now in India, where he will spend the next two days trying to iron out a bilateral deal termed the "123 agreement" needed to bring India out of 30 years of nuclear isolation so the energy-starved South Asian giant can start receiving nuclear fuel and technology from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The deal has stagnated for close to two years now because of some critical sticking points that the Indians and Americans simply cannot afford to back down on. The main sticking points involve clauses added to the original agreement by the U.S. Congress that stipulate India will not be allowed to reprocess nuclear fuel (which would allow for the extraction of weapons-grade plutonium) and the nuclear deal will be nullified should India conduct a nuclear test. For economic, political and national security reasons, India is not willing to concede on these U.S. demands and is looking for some leeway from Washington.

That leeway will not be easy to come by, especially since U.S. President George W. Bush knows the 123 agreement is going to have to come back to Congress for final approval. With the U.S. election season already in full swing and a vociferous nonproliferation lobby in Washington breathing heavily over the nuclear deal, it looks like these negotiations are not going to be wrapped up as quickly as both sides are hoping.

Bush has set the June 6-8 G-8 summit in Germany as an unofficial deadline to get this nuclear deal wrapped up and use the international conference as a platform to commemorate the cementing of a strategic partnership between India and the United States. This nuclear deal is the main stepping-stone the United States needs to formulate a geopolitical balance in the Indian Ocean basin. Such a balance would allow Washington to use India as a hedge against China, safeguard U.S. energy interests in the Persian Gulf, dilute Russia's ties with New Delhi and sustain pressure on Pakistan to cooperate on containing the transnational jihadist movement.

The ruling Congress party in India is keen on expanding ties with the United States, but also realizes the need to allay domestic political concerns that India is straying from its generally nonaligned foreign policy stance in the post-Cold War world. For New Delhi to move forward with this strategic alliance, it needs to show that it is getting a good deal with this nuclear agreement to alleviate India's energy concerns substantially.

Though Burns and his team are hard at work in New Delhi, the Bush administration appears to be making moves of its own to keep India interested in case the nuclear deal ends up taking even longer than expected. Indian officials said May 30 that Bush recently called up Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and invited him to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The dates are still being sorted out, but Singh could be donning cowboy boots as early as September.

Singh's trip would be a personalized visit, not another stuffy meeting at the White House with 30-member delegations. Bush does not invite just anybody to the ranch for one-on-one face time over barbeque. So far, less than two dozen world leaders have been hosted by Bush at the ranch since he came into office in January 2001. To get an invitation to Crawford, one must be a close friend or ally of Bush (like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi or Australian Prime Minister John Howard), or someone Bush feels he must deal with for strategic reasons (like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah). Singh likely falls into the latter category.

Singh's addition to the Crawford guest list has also been coupled with an announcement by the U.S. Defense Department of a $1.1 billion deal to sell India six C-130J Hercules transport aircraft and related equipment. These fully modernized C-130s are a significant update to the Indian air force's airlift capacity. Its 30 or so Soviet-era Ilyushin Il-76 transports are getting old, and the C-130 is a fairly unique airframe with more than 50 years of ongoing active service with the U.S. military. But this is not to say that Washington is pulling out all the stops in terms of military aid to India -- Pakistan (along with Cameroon and some 60 other countries around the world) operates older variants of the venerable transport. The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, however, is making a point to glamorize the proposed deal as a way for the United States to enhance its foreign policy and national security by strengthening the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship.

While Pakistan and China may be pleased to see the nuclear deal faltering over recent months, Washington is sending a clear message that it is still dead serious about its strategic alliance with India. But though the United States has its eyes set on India for long-term purposes, India's perspective is more short-term. India is not willing to go back on 50 years of its nuclear doctrine to satisfy U.S. demands for the deal to pass, and New Delhi's stance is becoming increasingly hardened. For India, the nuclear deal will have to materialize for this developing strategic alliance to bear fruit. Burns might be able to work some magic in New Delhi to get the agreement inked, but it is going to be a long shot.[Stratfor]

We dont need the civilian nuclear deal if it is not on our terms. It is better the deal falls through. The UPA as well as Bush want to ink the deal asap for political reasons. For that India cannot sacrifice its strategic interests.

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