US – India’s nuclear quid pro quo
Sharmini Peries talks to N. Ram
SHARMINI PERIES, JOURNALIST,TRNN: The Indo-US nuclear deal is threatening to bring down the minority government of Manmohan Singh. The government says the deal will allow India to access US nuclear fuel and technology to feed the ever-growing energy needs of India. The left parties see the deal as a new geostrategic alliance between New Delhi and Washington that would increase US influence in the region and compromise Indian sovereignty. To shed more light on the agreement and the controversy, I interviewed editor-in-chief of The Hindu, N. Ram in New York City.
PERIES: So, N. Ram, thank you for this interview with the Real News. What are the strategic relations between the two countries that led to the contents of this deal?
N. RAM, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE HINDU: It’s part of an ongoing or emerging security alliance, really, which has a military side, represented by the defence framework—main point there is interoperability of the armed forces of the United States and India; plans to sell fighter planes and other armaments to India. They also had the quadrilateral military exercises in September, where the United States, Japan, Australia, and India conducted a huge joint military exercise in the Bay of Bengal. It has been pretty clear that it’s a much bigger game. The nuclear deal is a small part of this emerging relationship, which is why I think the opposition from the left and progressive forces is so strong. The government of India did a dramatic reversal, and India is now complicit in the US project of developing confrontation with Iran. India used its vote on a sensitive occasion to refer the Iranian question to the UN Security Council.
PERIES: The Indo-US nuclear deal has been put on hold. I was wondering if you could outline the events that led up to the pause.
RAM: The problem arose when India exploded nuclear devices, first in ’74, and then in 1998. It came down like a ton of bricks. Sanctions were imposed, scientists were prevented from going abroad, and so on. And Manmohan Singh struck a deal with President George Bush. They make an exception for India, which is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty – notwithstanding your self-declared nuclear weapons state. We will do commerce with you in the field of civilian nuclear power under certain conditions – Manmohan Singh thought it was a breakthrough. He told me that President Bush wants to help us become a great world power. But the problem is it wasn’t transparent. They kept it under wraps. And when they were forced by political and public pressure to reveal the content of the deal, he came out with some assurances in Parliament and some statements.
PERIES: Why did the left alliance choose this particular issue as the issue that they would bring down the government?
RAM: Yeah, very good question. It’s a huge concession made for the Indian program, because what it really means is you can develop your nuclear weapon capability parallel to your civilian nuclear program without being into the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] regime, should be a permanent, incessant, quid pro quo that all kinds of things will be demanded to keep this going. The good thing about the Bush administration is it’s not subtle. It’s made it very explicit in the Hyde Act. There are nine references to what the United States expects from India on Iran. So they’re not very subtle about what they expect on foreign policy.
PERIES: What is India giving up, in terms of its regional presence and political influence in the region, for this alliance with the United States?
RAM: I think there will be a cost to pay. I think it’s lost goodwill. And in west Asia in particular, there’s a perception that India is now closely aligned to the US
PERIES: What will this mean, in terms of India’s relations with Iran?
RAM: An India dependent on Iran for its oil supplies. So that is in jeopardy now. But Iran, I think, has been pretty good about this. They have emphasized long-term relations and maintained a certain equipoise.
PERIES: Many analysts, regional strategic analysts, say that the US’ strategic interest with the Indo-US nuclear deal is to have a greater presence in the region in order to contain China.
RAM: I think the point about the strategic relationship threatening China in the future, I think, is highly speculative, and there is not enough evidence to back up the conspiracy theory that India is being roped in in a future strategy of confrontation with China.
PERIES: Why did Manmohan Singh hang so much of his credibility on this particular issue?
RAM: Because he thinks that this is the centrepiece for the strategic relationship. It symbolizes the strength of the partnership. And he really believes that President George Bush, who’s otherwise so unpopular around the world, is India’s greatest champion, and you’ll never get somebody as well-meaning as George Bush towards India. It’s not going to happen.
PERIES: Manmohan Singh is a smart man. Does he not see the decline that the Bush government is undergoing in the world today and in US in particular?
RAM: India has been bringing up the rear among countries which had earlier forward-looking policies. The Indian government was the first government in the world—outside the United States, of course—to welcome this mad scheme, the national missile defense program. They’ll be very quiet in expressing any kind of differences, even nuances, on any strategic issue. On Iran, for that matter, India is very quiet. But they have been very non-forthcoming in their opposition to these policies.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.