The pending U.S.-India nuclear-technology deal is barely news in Washington but dominates the headlines in New Delhi, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this week risked the collapse of his government as he attempts to hammer through the accord before George W. Bush permanently decamps to his Crawford ranch.
The Bush administration’s diplomatic efforts in South Asia have been deft. The U.S.-India pact recognizes the facts on the ground — that India is a nuclear power and is going to stay that way — while obliging India to open its facilities to a broad range of international inspections. In exchange, India will receive permission to purchase nuclear technology and reactor fuel from the United States. As a liberal democracy with China on one side and Pakistan on the other, India is positioned to be a key strategic and economic ally.
The accord has enraged India’s Islamic parties, which branded the deal “anti-Muslim”; they don’t want a deeper strategic relationship between two powers that share an interest in combating Pakistan-based terrorism. More significantly, India’s Communist parties opposed the accord, partly on direction from a Beijing that wants to dictate to all of Asia and therefore opposes cooperation between India and the United States. Singh’s coalition government nearly collapsed this week when the Communists withdrew their support; the regional Samajwadi party stepped in to bolster his coalition.
As an economist who was the father of India’s economic renaissance, Singh heads the most pro-American government India has produced. Fortifying strategic and economic ties between the world’s two largest democracies is in both nations’ interests. Meeting with Singh Wednesday at the G8 conference in Japan, President Bush reaffirmed his commitment to the accord and won an important statement of support from the G8 ministers. Once India has approved the deal, Congress will still have to act to finalize the arrangements.
And therein lies a risk, the name of which is Barack Obama. Captive to Democrats’ traditional hostility to all things nuclear, Obama tried to slay the India deal in the Senate but now says he supports it — with reservations. (Sen. McCain supports the deal unreservedly.) Obama’s advisers say he remains “highly ambivalent,” which apparently is how Manmohan Singh sees it, too. Thus, the rush job. It is telling that a key American ally would rather take the risk of executing a fraught accord with Bush today than wager on the possibility of the unreliable Obama tomorrow.