|The U.S. India nuclear cooperation agreement has survived yet another challenge. Last month's dramatic vote in the Indian parliament in support of the government's determination to press ahead with the agreement, removed a major hurdle that had delayed progress for almost a year. The prospects now look good for a successful conclusion to the three-year effort, with the possibility that the Bush Administration will forward the text to Congress this fall for final approval.
This historic initiative, which would remove almost all restrictions on India's access to nuclear technology, facilities, and fuel, was first announced by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 18, 2005 as part of a new "strategic partnership" between our two countries and ushering in a new era in the relationship between the world's two largest democracies.
The nuclear deal was conceived by the Bush Administration as a means of removing the restraints on India's civil and military nuclear programs to better enable it to compete with China. It is also intended to help satisfy India's rapidly expanding energy requirements while reducing the growth of greenhouse gases. In addition, it will open a significant new market for U.S. nuclear technology exports and investments to American businesses eager to sell nuclear reactors and other equipment to India.
The next stop for the agreement is the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors, which must give final approval to the draft safeguards agreement already negotiated with India regarding inspections of that country's nuclear facilities. Its vote could come as soon as early August.
Once the IAEA has signed off, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which is comprised of 45 nuclear-exporting countries voluntarily abiding by common guidelines, must agree on an exemption for India. Currently, NSG guidelines restrict nuclear commerce to countries which have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which India has not. The Administration is working to convince the countries that comprise the Nuclear Suppliers Group to conclude their deliberations by late August or early September.
Once these steps have been completed, the President will be able to submit the final agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Although the initiative has strong bipartisan support in the House and the Senate, there are increasing concerns that there may be too little time left in this session for Congress to act. I look forward to working closely with Indian-American organizations such as USINPAC that have been proactive in educating us about the importance of an expeditious approval of the deal by Congress.