The Indo - US Nuclear Deal crawls ahead

US and India are locked in a strategic cinch of unprecedented warmth and depth despite residual hiccups over the civilian nuclear deal, remarks by US President George Bush and PM Manmohan Singh after their White House meeting and the official briefing reveal.In pledging “a good, strong strategic relationship” (Bush) and recognising a “massive... enormous transformation” (Manmohan), both leaders threw away any vestige of pretence that ties between the two countries were more symbolic than strategic in nature. In one of the most telling disclosures, Bush said he appreciated Singh’s advice on a range of matters, in particular on the Indian neighbourhood, and “it helps me formulate policy”.The reference clearly was to Afghanistan-Pakistan-terrorism issues, and officials who briefed the media later confirmed that the two sides spent significant time on a subject that has exercised the Bush administration of late. Vice-President Dick Cheney, who drives US policy on the subject, was present at the meetings, amid reports of the first clashes between US and Pakistani forces.Foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon referred all questions about what Indian inputs Washington sought in Afghanistan, including boots on the ground, to the White House — which did not comment immediately — while asserting that “we don’t have a military presence (in Afghanistan) and we don’t intend to change that”.But India’s strong developmental and cultural agenda in Afghanistan is a subject of immense interest in Washington, and this, along with intelligence cooperation, was part of the conversation. India has at least 4,000 non-military personnel in Afghanistan and has pledged $1.2 billion in aid. Both the US and Indian national security advisors, Stephen Hadley and M K Narayanan, sat in on the meetings and were present at the private working dinner.While all this was going on, the vote on the nuclear agreement between the two sides meandered along in Congress, buried under the weight of the debate on the economic crisis and the obstructionist tactics of a few Democratic lawmakers. The Bush administration had appeared confident that the deal was close to being adopted, and that raised the prospect of a formal signing of the agreement between the two sides during secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s visit to India next month.Foreign secretary Menon acknowledged that the preoccupation with the financial crisis may come in the way of Congressional approval of the deal. “There is bipartisan support but the fact is that, they do have other things to do. So, it is really a function of their own process. I don’t think it is a lack of will or support,” he told reporters. But uncertainty deepened on Friday morning in the absence of any indication to suggest that the approval was coming on the last day of the session of the Congress or that the lawmakers might agree to sit for a week more before breaking for presidential polls.The day’s agenda listed India-US nuclear deal as the third item to be discussed after the economic stimulus plan and Iran sanctions. India will open two new consulates in the US in Seattle and Atlanta, foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon announced .

No comments: