US-India Relations Hit Rough Patch

The Associated Press
Thursday, June 28, 2007; 4:02 AM

WASHINGTON -- The United States has trumpeted a nuclear cooperation deal with India as the cornerstone of strong new ties with a growing economic and strategic force in Asia.

But with talks on that deal stalled and India and the United States trading blame for a breakdown in world trade negotiations, tension is creeping into the relationship.

In reaching a preliminary nuclear agreement, and persuading Congress to approve it, the Bush administration scored a rare foreign policy success last year at a time when it faced growing criticism over the Iraq war.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed the urgency of not letting the deal fall through.

"I cannot tell you how much the world is watching to see if we can complete this," Rice said in a speech to the U.S.-India Business Council. "We need to get it done by the end of the year."

After years of viewing each other with wariness, the two countries are cooperating in unprecedented ways: environment, education, defense, energy, business and security issues.

But it is the proposal to ship U.S. civil nuclear fuel to India that both countries' governments have chosen to cast as, in Rice's words, "the first fundamental pillar" of the emerging partnership.

The accord cleared a major hurdle in December when President Bush signed a congressionally approved exception to U.S. law to allow civil nuclear cooperation.

But the countries still must settle technical negotiations on an overall cooperation plan, and those talks have sparked frustration on both sides.

One of the biggest sticking points has been American reluctance to allow India to reprocess spent atomic fuel, a crucial step in making weapons-grade nuclear materiel.

"Had this been easy, it would have been done a long time ago," Rice said. But, she added, "both sides have determined that it is worth it."

Sandra Polaski, a trade analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said India, while keen to strengthen ties with the United States, wants its interests served, both in the nuclear deal and in the global trade talks involving the World Trade Organization.

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