Washington: In what could be termed as an important development in the field of Indo-US nuclear cooperation, a top American official has said an early works agreement between companies of the two countries could be signed this year. Speaking at a Congressional hearing, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake noted that both India and the US continue to work on implementation of the civilian nuclear deal despite their differences over the liability clause.
"The Indians have set aside several areas in Gujarat and in Uttar Pradesh for American companies to eventually build such plants and we continue to work through our liability concerns with the Indian government," Blake said. "We hope very much this year that one of these early works agreements can be signed by Westinghouse and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited," he said, underlining the need for more efforts in this regard.
The India-US civilian nuclear deal, he said, is one of the "really transformative deals" that was done in the course of Bush administration. Blake said the Obama Administration has made a determined effort to carry on the momentum, but observed that there are several "challenges" like the liability clause in India's nuclear law, which the US companies believe "does not provide them sufficient protection from possible liability suits".
We now have the largest exercise programme of any country in the world with India, said Blake.
"And therefore we have focused most of our efforts on trying to negotiate with the Indians and support our company's efforts to negotiate what are called early works agreements that are things like site preparation and early contracts and things like that that could again pave the way for future civil nuclear contracts," Blake said.
Congressman Steven Chabot who chaired the hearing, said the 2008 Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement was considered a watershed moment for US-India relations.
"But four years later, many believe that it has failed to tie India closer to the US-led global non-proliferation and arms control architecture. India has made no efforts to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or to voluntarily halt its production of fissile materials," he said.
"The deal was also supposed to build a robust security relationship between the US and India, serving as the nucleus to balance Chinese power. However, India's non-alignment 1.0 and now non-alignment 2.0 have made this goal a strategic nightmare," Chabot said.
Blake, however, sought to differ from Chabot on his observation on India's stand on non-alignment. "With respect to your comment about how India's non-aligned, actually I would respectfully disagree. India has moved very much closer to us now on defence cooperation."
"We now have the largest exercise programme of any country in the world with India, and I think all three of their services very much appreciate the opportunity to exercise with ours, and there is a growing coordination in that respect," Blake said.
"Likewise, our defence sales relationship has grown from virtually nothing to more than USD 9 billion, with several billion more of sales pending now."
"So again, I think our militaries are growing much closer together and there's great interest in developing closer interoperability and closer working relationships, and we'll certainly continue to build on those," he said.