A veteran American figure in the U.S.-India relationship is predicting the
civil nuclear agreement between the two countries will quickly open the door to
closer trade ties, but he warns that talk of a strategic alliance is premature.
VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.
Frank Wisner, a former U.S. ambassador to India,
told business leaders and diplomats here Friday he expects a quick, sharp debate
in Congress on the civil nuclear deal between Washington and New
He said U.S. lawmakers are anxious to settle business so they can
campaign for re-election. He said they also face a deadline to deal with the
issue before Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the White House in less
than two weeks.
"So we only have days, not weeks or months which I would
have obviously preferred," Wisner said.
President Bush on Thursday sent
the text of the proposed agreement to Congress, calling it a priority for his
Appearing with the veteran U.S. diplomat, a long-time
leader of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Tarun Das, said his compatriots
should realize the significance of what Mr. Bush has done for India.
"Yesterday's action by the president of the United
States, I think, is amazing and quite unprecedented. We need to recognize that,"
The agreement gives India access to American technology and
atomic materials. India, however, must open some of its nuclear facilities to
Former ambassador Wisner says while the deal
will expand India's ability to generate badly-needed atomic power, in no way
will the United States support India's controversial nuclear weapons program.
"We never said we would provide technology that would contribute to
weapons development," Wisner noted. "That kind of technology was off the table.
Where we thought we could make a difference where you needed us was to help get
doors open and provide trade that would develop a nuclear power industry. Well,
darn it, that's what exactly we intend to do."
Anger in Washington and
elsewhere about India's atomic weapons tests in 1974 and 1998 compelled the
international community to isolate the country from civil nuclear trade for many
The multinational Nuclear Suppliers Group, which governs
international nuclear material commerce, ended the 34-year embargo on India last
week, following pressure from Washington.
Wisner, now vice chairman of
the financial services conglomerate American International Group, says the
United States and India were at "real loggerheads" amid sanctions, threats and
defiance when he was ambassador in the mid-1990s.
But Wisner says even
with the United States helping to clear the way for India to enter into global
civil nuclear trade - despite it not signing international non-proliferation
agreements - it is premature to refer to New Delhi as Washington's "natural
ally" or "strategic partner."
"I think what we really want to do is fix
our minds on the fact that building this relationship is going to take 10, 15
years and the accomplishment of real tasks," he said. "And then we can sit back
and have the luxury of talking about natural alliances."
especially those on the political left, oppose closer U.S-India ties for their
traditionally non-aligned nation.
Prime Minister Singh has insisted that
the nuclear agreement with the United States does not infringe on India's
sovereignty. Some in the leading opposition party, the BJP, have said they will
push for re-negotiation of the pact if they return to power. They believe
Washington would stop supplying India with atomic fuel and technology for its
power plants if India were to conduct another nuclear weapons test.