If Americans had not been confronting their worst financial crisis in over 70 years, not to mention a presidential election, the US-India civilian nuclear agreement may have made a bigger splash here. The irony is that when President Bush signed the deal today, it was termed a signature achievement of his administration, and yet it passes by relatively un-noticed, as his approval ratings stay mired in the low 20s.
Here are the president's remarks on the deal, as per the Associated Press:
"By undertaking new cooperation on civil nuclear energy, India will be able to count on a reliable fuel supply for its civilian reactors, meet the energy demands of its people, and reduce its independence on fossil fuels," Bush said at a ceremony in the East Room. "For our part, the United States will gain access to a growing market for civilian nuclear technologies and materials that will help American businesses create more jobs for our people here at home."
Today's signing came a week after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the deal (see the vote breakdown: all Republicans voted yes). The House of Representatives passed it on September 27, by a vote of 298 to 117 (breakdown). And it was three years after the nuclear deal was initially proposed by Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Just three months ago, Singh passed through his trial by fire: a confidence vote brought on by opposition to the deal; he won the vote and his Congress party remained in power, but only after losing integrity, as reports surfaced that many votes were obtained through bribes.
For a complete chronology of the deal, from July 28, 2005 through today's signing, check out the timeline at The Economic Times.
- Press Trust of India: "Bush inked the authorising legislation finally approved by the US Congress last week in a high profile ceremony at the White House's ornate East Room reversing 34 years of US policy to eventually allow American businesses to have a share of India's 100 billion dollar nuclear pie."
- Los Angeles Times blog: "Bush's success in squeezing the legislation out of Congress in its final days reflected, once again, the ability of a lame-duck president with approval ratings below 30% and facing a hostile House and Senate to nonetheless achieve some top priorities."
- BBC: "India says the accord is vital to meet its rising energy needs. Critics say it creates a dangerous precedent. They say it effectively allows India to expand its nuclear power industry without requiring it to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as other nations must."
- Reuters: "The India-U.S. deal could open up around $27 billion in investment in 18 to 20 nuclear plants in India over the next 15 years, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry."
- Wall Street Journal, John Kerry op-ed: "...the nuclear deal should open the door to greater cooperation with India on nonproliferation issues. Despite its own arsenal, India has long supported the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Gandhi's dream is now shared by both U.S. presidential candidates. The new President should urge the Senate to ratify a treaty banning nuclear weapons testing -- and then encourage India and its neighbors to sign it and agree to a moratorium on producing nuclear weapons-usable material."
- Bloomberg: "The law clears the way for officials of the two nations to sign the final agreement this week. U.S. nuclear suppliers will compete with French and Russian companies for some $175 billion the U.S.-India Business Council expects the country to spend on peaceful nuclear energy as it seeks to power economic growth of more than 8 percent annually."
- The Hill: "The law does not allow U.S. companies to provide materials to India’s military nuclear plants — only civilian facilities that are used to generate energy for India’s 1.13 billion people."
The fact is that the Indo-US relationship may well be the Bush administration’s most significant (or perhaps only) international achievement of the last eight years. Look around the globe, and all you see are foreign policy shambles: five years of war in Iraq, accompanied by Abu Ghraib, torture, and rendition; a never-ending “global war on terror,” with Guantánamo a symbol of the Bushies’ disregard for international law; rock-bottom opinion polls across Europe; a seething Middle East, a glowering Russia; and hostile powers from Iran to Venezuela. If there is a glimmer of light—one place in the world where the Bush administration leaves a better relationship than the one it inherited—it can only be India.
On Sunday, Mira Kamdar savaged the deal in The Washington Post:
The pact will gut global efforts to contain the spread of nuclear materials and encourage other countries to flout the NPT that India is now being rewarded for failing to sign. The U.S.-India deal will divert billions of dollars away from India's real development needs in sustainable agriculture, education, health care, housing, sanitation and roads. It will also distract India from developing clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power, and from reducing emissions from its many coal plants. Instead, the pact will focus the nation's efforts on an energy source that will, under the rosiest of projections, contribute a mere 8 percent of India's total energy needs -- and won't even do that until 2030.
So what will the deal accomplish? It will generate billions of dollars in lucrative contracts for the corporate members of the U.S.-India Business Council and the Confederation of Indian Industry.
What do YOU think of the deal? Post your comments, updates below.