Washington, Feb. 18: Ten days before embarking on his high-profile journey to India, US President George W. Bush has taken it upon himself to see that progress on the Indo-US nuclear deal will be the high point of his summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
With Bush making his direct political intervention in the stalemate over the July 18, 2005, agreement between him and Singh, senior officials of the Bush administration are hoping that the Prime Minister will do the same on Monday when he addresses Parliament on the nuclear deal.
If the top leaders of the two countries intervene to overcome differences that are blocking the deal, Indian and US officials burning midnight oil over the pre-summit negotiations are confident that an agreement acceptable to both sides can be reached before Bush emplanes for New Delhi on February 28.
The two sides are working towards a deadline, which will enable the Bush administration to initiate legislation in the US Congress that is necessary to move forward on the agreement, by February 27, a day before the American President leaves on his three-day visit to India, a highly placed Bush administration official told The Telegraph.
Bush told a citizen’s meeting in his family fief of Florida yesterday that enabling India to produce nuclear energy was in the interests of the US.
“I am going to India on March 1'and I believe that it is good policy for the US to encourage these emerging economies to use clean energy, nuclear power, so as to help reduce demand for kind of non-renewables. And so I am going to talk to them about development of a civilian nuclear power industry,” the President said as justification for the Indo-US nuclear deal which faces considerable opposition on Capitol Hill.
That statement offered the first clue of the administration’s strategy to push through legislation in the US Congress to see through the nuclear deal with India.
Many Republican Congressmen, who fear loss of their seats in the mid-term elections this year on account of high petrol prices across America, will find the populist rationale electorally attractive and will be forced to moderate their opposition to any legislation that is proposed to facilitate the deal.
Bush told the American people that “this expansion of nuclear power ' which is in our interests, by the way; it is in our interests because of the quality of the air, it is in our interests because it takes ' reduces demand, global demand (for oil)' And so I am just sharing with you -- we got a full strategy to help us make us less dependent on energy -- on foreign sources of energy”.
Contrary to the public perception of irreconcilable differences, Indo-US negotiators have actually narrowed their disagreements on the basis of broad principles that will govern the deal.
Officials said the two sides were now firmly agreed that the July 18 agreement between Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is exclusively about civilian nuclear energy cooperation between their two countries and not about India’s strategic nuclear programme.
Once that was agreed, it was possible to keep out several contentious issues from the farmework of negotiations, ahead of the Bush trip.
For instance, the US will not insist on India stopping its production of fissile material for nuclear weapons as a pre-condition for sending legislation to the US Congress. Nor will India’s fast-breeder reactor programme be allowed to be “deal-breaker”.
But in public statements or communication associated with proposed legislation in the US Congress, the Bush administration will “continue to encourage India’s acceptance of a fissile material production moratorium”, sources said.
Such a moratorium has been a major demand of the non-proliferation lobby in the US as a pre-requisite for changes to America’s nuclear legislation.
The Americans may even reiterate in unambiguous terms that they do not and will not support India’s nuclear weapons programme.
At the same time, they will forcefully argue with detractors of the July 18 deal on Capitol Hill that legislation to take it forward will actually a substantial net gain for non-proliferation.
“It is a win for our strategic relationship, a win for energy security, and a win for non-proliferation,” a US official engaged in the talks said.
The Americans are very keen on making progress in the nuclear deal the highlight of Bush’s trip.
Since Bush neither has his predecessor Bill Clinton’s charisma, popularity or appeal, the White House is keen to compensate for that deficiency by adding the weight of a historic bilateral agreement to the presidential visit.