By signing the Convention on Supplementary Compensation in Vienna, New Delhi appears to have addressed the one big issue troubling the US administration and supporters and critics of closer ties with India.
“It’s a positive development,” said undersecretary of state William Burns at a White House news briefing on President Barack Obama’s India visit.
To operationalise the agreement — to install and run nuclear plants with imported equipment and fuel — it had to be followed by a law that fixed damages in the eventuality of a nuclear accident.
India passed a law earlier this year, but it was found to be inadequate by most international suppliers, a point also raised by India’s sole operator, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India.
Critics of the agreement and of closer US ties with India were quick to say, “We warned you”.
“The civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the two countries has not turned the relationship into a partnership, as envisioned,” George Perkovich, a nuclear expert, wrote in a paper released on Tuesday arguing for relations between the two countries to be put in perspective. They cannot be natural allies, he added.
Even those arguing for closer ties with India said they found themselves losing ground because of the nuclear liability bill as passed by Indian Parliament. It opened up the liability question far too wide for private companies to handle.
In “Natural Allies: A Blueprint for the Future of U.S.-India Relations”, former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage and former undersecretary of state for political affairs R. Nicholas Burns asked India to urgently address question raised about the nuclear liability bill.
They went on to urge the US to give India everything it wants: endorsement for a permanent UN SC seat and removing export controls. India has delivered.