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India-US nuclear deal faces delay as New Delhi sets up committee to examine pact

India-US nuclear deal faces delay as New Delhi sets up committee to examine pact

A landmark nuclear cooperation deal between India and the United States faced an uncertain future Thursday with India's government deciding to implement the pact only after a politically appointed committee has examined it.
The deal, widely seen as virtually complete after its technical aspects were finalized last month, has faced a surprising amount of opposition in India, where critics say it could undermine the country's cherished nuclear weapons program and impinge on its foreign policy.
Leading the opposition has been a group of communist parties that threatened to pull their support for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh if his government pressed ahead with the pact, touted as the foundation of an emerging strategic partnership between India and the United States.
The threat by the communists, who are vital to Singh's parliamentary majority, left the government facing its worst crisis since taking office three years ago and prompted open speculation about early elections.
But Singh's coalition appeared to back down Thursday, agreeing to the communists' demand that a committee be created to examine the pact.
"The operationalization of the deal will take into account the committee's findings," foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters after a 30-minute meeting between ruling Congress party and communist leaders at Singh's residence. His comments were read from a prepared statement.
Mukherjee said the committee is to have five Congress members and five communists. But his statement was ambiguous about whether the government could push ahead with the next steps in the deal _ negotiating agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a group of nations that export nuclear material _ before the committee had finished its review.
The communists had previously insisted that the government take no action until the deal is reviewed.
Mukherjee didn't answer any questions, and officials set no timetable for the committee.
After working out the pact's technical details last month, officials on both sides said they hoped to have agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group tied up the end of the year, along with the needed approval from U.S. lawmakers.
The creation of the committee raised questions about whether they could still meet that deadline _ or even get the deal done.
In recent days, U.S. and Indian officials supportive of the deal have privately expressed concern that creating such a committee, which was widely rumored to be in the works, could delay any movement on the pact until it is no longer viable.
Most of the criticism of the deal here stems from the so-called Hyde Act, passed last year by American lawmakers to allow nuclear trade with India, which had been banned by the United States for three decades because New Delhi has refused to sign international nonproliferation accords and tested nuclear weapons.
The act contains a nonbinding clause directing the U.S. president to determine whether India is cooperating with American efforts to confront Iran about its nuclear program. That has been seized on by Indian critics as proof that Washington intends to direct New Delhi's foreign policy.
The nuclear deal does not address what happens if India tests an atomic weapon. Indian critics argue that the lack of an explicit right to test is a sign the U.S. aims to shut down the country's weapons program.


Updated : 2021-03-08 18:22 GMT+08:00