The case of the proposed U.S.-India civil nuclear partnership shows the U.S. national security state at work, and also how this system can be used to generate a profit for its high priests -- in this instance, Robert Blackwill, the NSC staffer who was Condoleezza Rice's first government boss. -- Blackwill's Washington lobbying firm (Barbour Griffith Rogers) has been hired by the government of India for $700,000 to see through an arrangement for which Blackwill is the only "big advocate." -- As described Wednesday by reporter Caroline Daniel in London's Financial Times on Wednesday, the Bush administration showed its conception of the executive-legislative relationship by announcing the partnership as a fait accompli without consulting Congress, despite the fact that the arrangement would require U.S. law to be rewritten. -- The deal is now proving useful, as it was in September, to pressure India to vote with the U.S. and against Iran at the IAEA meeting on Feb. 2-3. -- Lobbyist Blackwill is urging the importance of the Big Strategic Picture: "Mr. Blackwill warned last week of the danger of focusing exclusively on the small print, rather than the strategic picture. 'Indians see this as a litmus test of American seriousness . . . If we fail it would set back for many years this evolution in the U.S.-India relationship and be very damaging for U.S. prospects in the decades ahead.'" -- But whose interests are being served? -- Above Blackwill's name on his lobbying firm's web site can be read these words: "Our BGRI team possesses a rare combination of senior public policy experience, strategic vision, an unparalleled network of relationships in Washington, and intimate engagement with business and government leaders around the globe. BGRI is client-focused and results-driven." -- (Our emphasis.)


By Caroline Daniel

Financial Times (UK)
January 18, 2006 (subscribers only)

WASHINGTON -- When the U.S. announced a deal with India to forge a civil nuclear partnership in July, it was hailed as a historic breakthrough in relations and compared with the President Richard Nixon’s overture to China in 1972.

Six months on, the rhetoric is more muted. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday for talks critical to the success of the deal, which he says faces a “number of difficulties and complications,” although the problems are not “insuperable.”

Behind that comment is the uncomfortable fact that there has been little public progress in advancing the agreement. No legislative initiatives have been presented to the U.S. Congress that must approve it, or to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the 44-country body that aids the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through the control of nuclear-related exports.

Instead, there are fears the agreement is being bogged down in grinding negotiations over how to separate India’s civilian and military nuclear facilities, to reassure critics that the U.S. is not handing sensitive technology to India’s military. There are also concerns about whether India will make safeguards on its facilities permanent. “Indians say they will agree to safeguards as long as we guarantee the permanent supply of fuel,” says George Perkovich, vice-president at the Carnegie Endowment.

The U.S. business community has been mute, waiting for a sign from the White House that there is real momentum.

Even advocates of the agreement are restraining their optimism. Robert Blackwill, the former U.S. ambassador to India, whose lobbying firm Barbour Griffith Rogers has been retained by the Indian government at $700,000 a year, last week said: “This is not meant to be a long process . . . We will see it happen in the next few months, if it happens.”

But the previous meeting in December with India’s foreign minister in Washington did not go smoothly, with one U.S. official saying the U.S. would “have been laughed out of the room” if they had presented it to Capitol Hill.

If there is progress this week, the next step will be to introduce legislation in the hope that Congress will pass it before President George W. Bush goes to India towards the end of next month. But that timetable is tight.

The first problem is that the administration ruffled Congressional feathers when it handed down the agreement -- which involves a rewriting of U.S. law -- as a fait accompli. “Ultimately, members don’t like the deal but what they are upset about more is a lack of consultation, so their feelings were hurt. There are no big advocates except Robert Blackwill. But opposition is also muted because it is arcane,” says Mr. Perkovich.

In the initial skirmishes in the House and Senate hearings in September and November, critics of the deal, concerned about undermining current non-proliferation treaties, were better organized. “The administration did not put forward any plan and has used zero political capital so far to get anything done,” says one congressional aide.

Even so, he predicts there will be an agreement. Several members who recently visited India, such as Senators Max Baucus and John Kerry, say they back the deal in principle but are waiting on the separation agreement. “There isn’t exactly a grassroots constituency for non-proliferation. Senators Richard Lugar and Joe Biden have concerns but are not looking to nix it,” says the aide.

Congressional political interest in India is also growing. India is now the largest foreign caucus on Capitol Hill, with about 180 members. Many of the 2.2m Indian Americans also live in Republican districts.

The second hurdle is international opposition at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Although Britain, France, and Russia are in favor, there is opposition from Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty purists, such as Sweden, Ireland, and Switzerland, which fear anything short of India signing the NPT is suspect. Several non-aligned countries that gave up their own nuclear weapons efforts, such as South Africa and Brazil, have asked why India is being treated as an exception. There are also fears that China will press for Pakistan to get the same deal.

A third problem looms: Iran. There are dangers that U.S. policy looks contradictory. Iran has complained of “dual standards” being applied to its nuclear ambitions at the same time as it is carving out an exception for India from the NPT.

India is reluctant to compromise its energy partnership with Iran. In September, after intense lobbying from the U.S., India voted for the resolution about Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency but said it did not believe Iran’s nuclear program was in non-compliance. The vote created a political backlash in India.

India would prefer to avoid another vote. Yet the hearings made clear that many members will link their support for India to it voting the right way on Iran. The issue will be central to Mr Burns’ talks. “If you have to beg for every vote, that tells you a lot. This is not yet the strategic relationship the U.S. wants,” says Henry Sokolski, director at the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center. “They still have no dates from the Indians for anything. It is totally unknown. There is no way Congress will produce unless there is more certainty.”

Mr. Blackwill warned last week of the danger of focusing exclusively on the small print, rather than the strategic picture. “Indians see this as a litmus test of American seriousness . . . If we fail it would set back for many years this evolution in the U.S.-India relationship and be very damaging for U.S. prospects in the decades ahead.”