‘Obama’s take on Indo-US nuke deal different from Bush’

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his visit to the United States as the first state guest of Barack Obama, will certainly discuss the delay in implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal, which was concluded last year.

According to US Ambassador Timothy J Roemer, the deal will not move further without resolving three key issues: Enactment of Liability legislation by India, negotiations on setting up of Dedicated Reprocessing Facility in India, and licensing aspects.

In an exclusive interview to Kamna Arora for Zeenews.com, A Vinod Kumar, an expert on non-proliferation, discusses how Dr Singh can take advantage of his US visit to push the Indo-US nuclear deal.

A Vinod Kumar is Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

Kamna: How will Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US help create a framework for better Indo-US nuclear ties?

Vinod: The framework for engagement has been existent since the Agreed Principles formulated during (former US) president (Bill) Clinton’s visit in 2000. The strategic partnership initiated by (former US) president (George W) Bush and the 18 July 2005 statement strengthened this relationship, resulting in enhanced cooperation in wide range of areas including nuclear energy, defence and high technology trade. Dr Singh’s visit comes at a time when the areas of divergence are again increasing due to a different approach followed by President (Barack) Obama on many issues including non-proliferation. Amidst apprehensions of a downturn in Indo-US relations, Dr Singh could use this visit for a renewed dialogue with President Obama to limit the differences on key issues.

The primary effort could be to convey India’s concerns on President Obama’s policies on issues like non-proliferation, terror emanating from Pakistan and Obama’s insensitive approach on issues like Kashmir. The joint statement by (US) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Minister of External Affairs SM Krishna in June 2009 could be an ideal point of reference to understand the commonalities on issues of mutual interest. Dr Singh’s visit should reinstate the key positioning that India had acquired during the Bush years and highlight the significance of the strategic partnership between the two largest democracies and optimally use it to deal with global security problems.

Kamna: Why does the Obama administration want India to be a key player in its overall non-proliferation efforts?

Vinod: President Bush undertook a radical shift in Washington’s approach towards India from being part of a global proliferation problem to being part of a solution to this problem. However, President Obama has different approach on non-proliferation and seeks to rejuvenate traditional instruments like the NPT and CTBT, which India has treated as being discriminatory. Though Obama realises the fact that the strengthening of the regime will not fructify without a key role by a responsible nuclear weapon state like India, he is unable to figure the right approaches to assimilate India into the US non-proliferation game plan.

Obama’s perception on the utility of the Indo-US nuclear deal differs from that of president Bush. While Bush envisioned India as a valuable partner in his framework of non-proliferation and counter-proliferation which essentially departed from the NPT-oriented system, Obama seeks to extract the price from India by cajoling New Delhi’s participation in instruments of the old order. Obama could exploit India’s commitment in the 18 July 2005 joint statement to play a greater role in global non-proliferation efforts. He realises the fact that India is yet to define the nature of this role and hence could use this opportunity to try and force India to review its approach towards key instruments like the NPT and CTBT.

Kamna: What is the significance of Indo-US nuclear deal in context of the emergence of other regional players, like China?

Vinod: The nuclear deal was part of efforts by the Bush administration to create a new non-proliferation bargain wherein states which have misused access to nuclear resources are penalised and those like India be rewarded for their good non-proliferation record. The deal was also a result of president Bush’s determination to augment India’s rising power profile. This was construed as a strategy to position India as a countervailing force to China’s rise. By endorsing a greater Chinese say in Asian affairs, President Obama might have essentially negated this notion.

The deal is also recognition of India’s growth story and its potential to accelerate the global economy. Washington also envisioned an unprecedented market opportunity to US companies in an empowered Indian energy sector. Though not imparting any direct regional impact, the deal essentially sent a message to countries like China which had clandestinely assisted proliferation in the region. That the NSG sanctioned an India-specific waiver despite subtle Chinese resistance and its efforts to facilitate a similar deal for Pakistan becoming a non-starter, clearly showed that the non-proliferation community has not approved Chinese behaviour on this front.

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