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Was Nuclear deal clinched before Narendra Modi hugged Barack Obama?

New Delhi,Iftikhar Gilani: India’s Ambassador to the US Jaishankar Subramanyam and Amandeep Singh Gill, Joint Secretary (Disarmament & International Security Affairs) did much of the background work

Prime Minister Narendra Modi build the atmospherics, breaking protocol and travelling all the way to airport to receive US President Barrack Obama. That set the chemistry between the two, which reflected in talks and subsequent clinching of two major deals – on nuclear issue and defence. Modi called POTUS Barrack, to show closeness and informal affinity. Modi’s gesture was, apparently, to show how much value India accords to the US and the keenness to take the strategic partnership to new level. First time a hotline between an Indian PM and a US President was established. There are hotlines with China and Pakistan, but at lower levels. Modi said the effort was part of their exercise to give the critical partnership “a new thrust and sustained attention”.

Who brokered the Nuclear Deal?

India’s Ambassador to the US Jaishankar Subramanyam and Amandeep Singh Gill, Joint Secretary (Disarmament & International Security Affairs) are believed to have played a part doing much of background work. But despite them meeting their US counterparts in London just a few days ago, glitches remained. But it was a 15-minute stroll by Modi and Obama at lawns of Hyderabad House, the venue for bilateral talks, sharing thoughts and lighter moments before sitting over a cup of tea, that clinched the deal. The deal was in limbo since 2008, when the US Congress gave its final approval to the agreement. Former Prime Minister Singh, his aides then foreign secretaries Shyam Saran and Shiv Shankar Menon along with current Indian Ambassador in Washington Jaishankar had then played crucial role in brokering the deal.

What N-deal means to India?

Nuclear commerce worth billions of dollars is meant to be the centrepiece of a new strategic relationship between the US and India. It will allow New Delhi access to US dual-use nuclear technology, including materials and equipment that could be used to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, potentially creating the material for nuclear bombs. It would also receive imported fuel for its nuclear reactors. More significantly, it will give energy-deficient India access to fuel supply to boost its nuclear energy programme and beat chronic power outages.

What were the stumbling blocks?

The deal could not be operationalised due to the US insisting to reserve the right to monitor and inspect nuclear plants for which they will supply the reactor and equipment and also suppliers were against India’s 2010 nuclear liability law that provides right of recourse in the event of a nuclear accident.

How it was cleared now?

Both sides agreed to set up an insurance pool to indemnify companies that build reactors in the country against liability in case of a nuclear accident. India’s five public sector insurance companies will stand to insurance Rs 750 crore and the balance will be provided by the government, an arrangement similar to that of 26 other international practices world wide. Details of premium will be worked out soon. Also, the US forfeited its demand on ‘flagging’, inspecting or tracking the nuclear material they supply to India, required under its rules to ensure it is not being used for military purposes.

What are the implications?

The agreement is more than just about nuclear energy. It has several strategic connotations, including with regard to China. First, the agreement is an outcome of the US’ recognition that India is a major power in the 21st century and that it has a vital role to play in the emerging Asian strategic framework. It marks the end of the nuclear apartheid India has been subject to in the last three decades. The deal recognizes India as a nuclear power, which has been of great concern to the non-proliferation ayatollahs of Washington.

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