India Divided on U.S. Nuke Deal
The key question of President Bush's visit to India, say Indian online commentators, is whether the two countries will finalize a July 2005 agreement promising India access to U.S. and foreign civilian nuclear technology.
The deal would allow India to import natural and enriched uranium as well as so-called light water nuclear reactors. In return, the United States wants "credible and transparent" safeguards that the technology will only be used for India's energy needs and not its military, which already has nuclear weapons.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has faced "strong criticism from all sections of the political establishment, including supporting allies, for the civilian nuclear energy agreement," according to the Asian Age. Opposition is especially strong among India's nuclear scientists, says one columnist for the AA. In a speech to the Indian parliament on Monday, Singh said India would open many, but not all, of its nuclear facilities to international inspections, according to The Statesman in Delhi.
The debate focuses on whether U.S. demands for safeguards infringe on India's sovereignty and freedom of action with regard to its nuclear arsenal.
The editors of the Indian Express favor the deal, saying "the US has apparently made major concessions on India's prototype fast breeder reactor and is willing to let India keep a significant number of reactors outside safeguards."
"It would be a pity if the two leaders now let the path-breaking nuclear pact collapse over minor technical disputes on the number of Indian reactors to be placed under safeguards," the IE editors say. "For Manmohan and Bush the nuclear pact was not an end in itself. It was about the need to build a strong Indo-US strategic partnership."
But the United States is not open to accommodating Indian interests, counters Vikram Sood in the Hindustan Times. Bush's position, he writes, is that "the US will make the rules on the nuclear game and either we play it their way or count ourselves out."
"The crucial question," says nuclear analyst S. Raghotham in the Deccan Herald, "is what sort of conditions the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress seek.
"These conditions may require that India should not test a nuclear weapon again, that it should not test an ICBM that could reach continental United States, that India should not change its de-alerted nuclear posture, or that it accept a fissile material limit," he writes.
Given India's insistence on "unrestricted, complete and autonomous control" of its nuclear weapons programs, all of these conditions, including U.S. congressional oversight, would be 'deal-breakers'," Raghotham says.
Singh and Bush are scheduled to meet Thursday -- whether or not they'll announce any progress on the nuclear agreement remains to be seen.
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