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N-deal hope in Obama mate

Washington, Aug. 23: With the choice of Senator Joseph Biden as the vice-presidential running mate by Barack Obama, the Indo-US nuclear deal has been assured a lease of life in the next US administration even if it languishes in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for a while and does not make it to the current US Congress.

Biden, who is now chairman of the US Senate’s key foreign relations committee, has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the deal in this capital city: without his stewardship of the enabling legislation on Capitol Hill, the deal would not have got anywhere near its current phase of operationalisation.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has already pledged his support for the deal if he becomes the next US President. Now that Biden is certain to play a decisive foreign policy role in a prospective Obama administration, those in India who were anxious to see the deal through under the Bush administration can rest easy that the US will continue to advance nuclear co-operation with India whoever becomes the next occupant of the White House.

Obama, who will be formally nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate in Denver on Thursday, has been a lukewarm supporter of the deal, although, in recent weeks, he has tried to seek Indian American support by professing support for the deal.

Obama said two days ago that as vice-president, he wanted “somebody who is going to be able to challenge my thinking and not simply be a yes-person when it comes to policy-making”.

It is clear that if the Obama-Biden ticket wins the election in November, the nuclear deal will be one issue on which Biden will challenge Obama’s thinking.

Biden, who was elected to the Senate in 1972 at the age of 30, has been an enthusiast for India long before the country became a hot favourite on Capitol Hill in recent years. He is on record that “my dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the US. If that occurs, the world will be safer.”

At a time when Jammu and Kashmir is boiling again, it is reassuring that Biden has repeatedly expressed the view that any dispute between India and Pakistan “is not ours to solve”.

Shortly before he took over as chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee in 2007, Biden went beyond what most US legislators would say in public, that he would not allow Kashmir to creep into the Senate floor “without consultation with India first”.

Biden’s garrulous nature may have been a key factor in getting him the vice-presidential spot on the Democratic ticket.

His loose tongue, however, got him into trouble recently with some Indian Americans. When Biden himself was a presidential candidate during the early primary season for this year’s election, he was caught on camera as remarking that in his home state of “Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian-Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/11 (supermarket) or a Dunkin’ Donuts (coffee shop) unless you have a slight Indian accent. I am not joking.”

The Republicans, who have been envious of the Senator’s proximity with Indian Americans, pounced on that remark. It did not alienate him from Indian Americans and Biden’s spokesperson rationalised that he was referring to the vibrant nature of the Indian American community.

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