A NUCLEAR fuel and technology deal that the United States negotiated with India is running into fierce political opposition in an unlikely place India.
The agreement, negotiated under President Bush, was controversial in the United States because it was incompatible with prior U.S. policy.
That policy excluded cooperation in the nuclear field with countries such as India, Israel, and Pakistan that possess nuclear weapons but have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Those countries shunned the treaty because it requires that they submit their nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Both Iran and North Korea, the administration s betes noires in the nuclear field, have signed the NPT.
The Bush Administration wanted the nuclear accord with India to improve political ties and, more specifically, because India intends to spend some $40 billion in coming years in arms purchases, a potential bonanza for U.S. arms producers.
Congress approved the agreement in December, although it will still have one more cut at it after other preconditions to final agreement have been fulfilled. One of these is approval of the deal by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group. A second is IAEA agreement. The third, where serious problems have now arisen, is in India itself.
The coalition government of Prime Minister Manowan Singh, led by his Congress Party but including the Communist Party of India and three other parties on the left, is encountering serious opposition in Parliament to the U.S. agreement and might even fall, forced into early elections over the issue.
Indian opposition seems to be based on general wariness of a closer relationship with the United States, not particularly on the nuclear agreement itself. In New Delhi, Mr. Singh s government is digging in for the fight. In Washington, India s lobbyists, led by the U.S.-India Political Action Committee, have become increasingly active as the pace quickens for the 2008 U.S. elections. American defense contractors are also weighing in, eyeing India s likely arms purchases.
This is an issue where it is important that Congress not lose sight of principle as it is importuned by lobbyists wielding campaign donations.
Principle must prevail. If India wants a nuclear deal with the United States, it should open its nuclear weapons and other nuclear programs to IAEA inspection. What we are requiring of North Korea and Iran we should require of our friends as well.
Big arms contracts are not a valid reason to abandon an important principle that makes the world a less dangerous place.