| (Top)Barbara Boxer,Ron Somers
Washington, Nov. 18: On Thursday afternoon, half way into the marathon Senate debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal, the captains of American industry huddled over what seemed to them to be a looming crisis.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a maverick Democrat from California, one of only two Senators to vote against legislation enabling implementation of the nuclear deal in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had struck pay dirt.
Sensing the inevitable passage of the legislation in the full Senate by an overwhelming margin, Boxer unsheathed a Brahmastra which had the potential of killing the nuclear deal even if it was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
Boxer tabled an amendment to the bill before the Senate to prohibit all military-to-military contact between India and Iran as a pre-condition for the nuclear for going into effect.
Iran is an emotive issue in the US and the idea of regime change in Tehran has virtually unanimous support in American politics although Senators and other holders of public office may differ on the methods to bring about the change.
For leaders of a powerful Coalition for Partnership with India (CPI), made of American businesses, academic institutions, associations, think-tanks and like-minded individuals, formed last year to push the nuclear deal through and promote a deeper strategic partnership with India, it seemed likely that the Boxer amendment would pass.
That would have stirred such a ruckus in India, especially among the Left parties, making it highly likely that the deal could not go forward.
Around 5.30 pm, with only three hours or so left for the final Senate vote on the India-related legislation, frantic messages went out from this Coalition urging its members and supporters to contact individual Senators urging them to vote against the Boxer amendment.
“By seeking (to) legislate India’s foreign policy, this amendment would force India to reject the overall agreement,” the CPI warned in an urgent e-mail sent to thousands of people across the US.
“Call your Senator immediately to urge a vote against the Boxer amendment,” the e-mail urged.
The SOS worked. When it came to a vote, as many as 38 Senators supported Boxer, over three times more than the number that voted against the overall legislation.
That was a close call, which nearly killed the nuclear deal. The Boxer amendment could not have been defeated without the hectic involvement of American business in opposing it.
Indeed, the nuclear deal itself would not have got this far unless the US industry had decided that it was something they stood to benefit from.
Ron Somers, president of the US-India Business Council (USIBC), which took the initiative to create the CPI, said after the Senate passed the India-related bill: “In every regard, this bill presents a win.... It lays the foundation for major trade and investment opportunities in India for US companies. As many as 27,000 high quality jobs each year for the next 10 years will be created in the US nuclear industry alone as a result of this agreement.”
For India, payback for such help from American industry may fall due this month itself.
The USIBC is preparing to send to India at the end of November the largest ever trade mission of its kind.
It will not only include top US businessmen seeking a slice of the Indian commercial and industrial pie, but also senior Bush administration officials such as Franklin Lavin, the under-secretary of commerce for international trade.
Nicholas Burns, the current number two in the state department, the nuts-and-bolts man for the nuclear deal will also be in New Delhi at that time in case anyone doubted the unspoken link between US businesses expecting a quid pro quo for their role in seeing the deal through the Congress.
It is not just the billions of dollars worth of nuclear supplies to India that US companies are betting on.
The immediate US focus is on getting an order from the Indian Air Force for 126 multi-role combat aircraft.
If the order goes to Boeing, as the Americans desire, it will be the biggest military aviation deal in history.