Now or never Indo-US nuclear deal

Now or never  Indo-US nuclear deal
# 09 February 2008 09:09 (UTC +04:00)
US ambassador David Mulford’s words represented some of the toughest language yet by a US representative about delays in India’s clearance of the deal which would give New Delhi crucial access to civilian atomic technology.
Mulford called the agreement India’s "passport to the world," adding its collapse would "affect the trust and discretion" in Indo-US relations in a television interview aired on Saturday.
"If this agreement is not processed in the present (US) Congress it is unlikely that this deal will be offered again to India," Mulford told CNN-IBN.
The deal -- first agreed by US President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 -- is regarded by the governments of the two nations as a cornerstone of new, warmer Indo-US ties.
But Indian communists have threatened to withdraw backing for the minority Congress coalition government if it goes ahead with the pact without their approval.
They say the accord may threaten India’s nuclear weapons programme and allow US intervention in its foreign policy.
Under the nuclear accord, India will separate its civilian and military programmes and place 14 of its 22 nuclear plants under international safeguards in return for civilian nuclear technology.
Washington, in return, has promised to amend the US Atomic Energy Act which prevents the United States from trading nuclear technology with nations such as India that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The deal will enable India to keep its military programme while still benefiting from international civilian nuclear commerce.
India tested nuclear weapons in 1974 and 1998 and, as a result, is banned from buying fuel for atomic reactors and related equipment.
The pact still needs approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency to place India’s civilian nuclear reactors under UN safeguards and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group which regulates global civilian nuclear trade.
Then afterwards the agreement requires final US congressional approval.
But a tight 2008 legislative calendar ahead of the US presidential elections in November could complicate its passage, experts say. Also, some US opponents fear the deal will undermine efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.