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Rudd Opposition may hold key to success of US-India nuclear agreement

Posted by gmarkets on 12 October, 2007

Nothing was more important in India at the moment than its nuclear co-operation deal with the United States, wrote Greg Sheridan in The Australian (29/9/2007, p. 27).

Nuclear program in two parts: The deal effectively accepted India as a nuclear weapons state. It divided the Indian nuclear program into its peaceful and military components. The peaceful, power-generating components would fall under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would enact a special protocol for India. This was necessary because the IAEA could only work fully with nations that were either accepted nuclear weapons states (US, Britain, China, Russia, France) or were members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and did not have nuclear weapons.

Controversy over drawing too close to US: In India the deal was controversial with the Left and the Right. This was most assuredly not because the Left was anti-nuclear. In India the entire political spectrum believed the nation must keep its nuclear weapons and should further develop nuclear energy generation. Rather the Left felt the deal drew India too close to the US strategically, and would make India a de facto ally. The Congress Party was the dominant party in the Indian Government and its Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and party boss Sonia Gandhi were resolutely committed to the deal. The Left was important, however, because it was in coalition with Congress, and Congress could not govern without it. So the Government could conceivably fall if the Left abandoned the coalition and voted against the Government on a confidence matter, even though the nuclear deal itself did not require ratification by parliament. The feeling was that Congress would have to buy the Left’s support, but not necessarily with a concession on nuclear matters. On the Right, the Opposition Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party was opposed to the deal because it believed it was too restrictive about what India could do in the future, especially in terms of nuclear weapons tests.

Australia important to India: Enter Australia. Australia was important in two ways. It held more than one third of the world’s known uranium deposits, so whether it sold uranium to India was important. Second, because of its uranium stocks, it was an unusually important member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. An Australian veto on India at the NSG would be much harder to ignore, although the potential for Australia being isolated was strong. The Howard Government supported the US-India deal and had already come to an agreement with the Indian Government that it would export uranium to India. It would, of course, support India at the NSG.

Rudd Opposition will not sell uranium to India: The Rudd Opposition at this stage had a position that it would not sell uranium to India and that it would oppose India at the NSG. The timing here could be quite tricky. If the IAEA worked out a protocol around mid October and the Indian Government held together, and if the US Congress approved the deal in the next weeks or months, the NSG could be meeting in the first weeks of a Rudd government.

The Australian, 29/9/2007, p. 27

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