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Nuclear Deal at Center of Bush's Trip to India


In India, there's both anticipation and trepidation that the U.S. and India will sign a nuclear cooperation deal. India would have to agree to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities and open some to inspection. In exchange, India would be able to buy civilian nuclear technology from the U.S. But it's far from a done deal.

For some insight into the debate in India, we're joined by M.J. Akbar. He's editor-in-chief of the English-language daily The Asian Age in New Delhi. But right now, he's a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution here in Washington. And he's with us in our studio. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. M.J. AKBAR (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): Thanks.

BLOCK: A former Indian ambassador to the U.S. has talked about both parties wrangling over the terms of nuclear endearment. Why are these terms becoming so hard to reach?

Mr. AKBAR: Yes, because it's a marriage of misplaced intentions. Nobody is totally sure of what the other side wants out of this marriage, what is the nature of the baby. We in India, and I think one talks on behalf of the Indian street, not necessarily the Indian government, there is no question of government being allowed to compromise on India's nuclear military capability.

BLOCK: Let me ask you for a bit of a balance sheet here. For people in India who think this is a good thing, we should make this deal and it is to our advantage to do so, what are the pluses for India?

Mr. AKBAR: Well, the pluses, of course, are the regular and uninterrupted supply of fuel.

BLOCK: India's growing and needs a lot of energy.

Mr. AKBAR: It needs a lot of energy. And India has genuine need for a peaceful nuclear energy.

BLOCK: And opponents in India, I imagine, would say, look, we've created this nuclear program pretty much from scratch on our own, why do we need somebody else to come in and put limitations on what we've achieved?

Mr. AKBAR: Precisely, that is it. And, you know, we as a newspaper have been raising questions about this from July 18th and, of course, on July 19th, it was really projected as a done deal. And as things have begun to emerge, the kind of atmosphere has moved from triumphalism down to reality.

So we do realize that yes, that is of concern. We do realize that a large number of senators and people on the Hill would actually want India definitely to roll back.

BLOCK: Roll back from the nuclear capabilities that it already has?

Mr. AKBAR: Yeah, lots of people would want us to roll back. But that is not going to happen. Nuclear capability and military capability in our part of the world, at least in our country, has become almost synonymous with nationalism.

BLOCK: I want to ask you about another part of the president's trip to India and that's a visit he's going to be making to Hyderabad. Tell us about the significance of that choice.

Mr. AKBAR: Well, Hyderabad and Bangalore are the two cities in the south which have come into their own as the Silicon Valleys. These southern states are actually growing at 10 percent, 12 percent. So there's a perceptible boom. There's an investment in infrastructure. And obviously, India wants to show its showcase city. It's not that when George Bush lands in Hyderabad, he's not going to see any cows. He will see cows. He will see the dust and the heat, but he will also see the India that is on the horizon, that is on the cutting edge.

BLOCK: Your country has now had visitors from two consecutive U.S. presidents: Bill Clinton in 2000, now George Bush. What does that say, do you think, about India's standing in the world and how it's changed?

Mr. AKBAR: Well, you know, it says as much about India as it says about he United States. Old Sufi saying: don't blame the sun for being blind, which means that while we've been shining for a long while, quite a bit of the world has been blind to our achievement and to our activity. What we really welcome is the fact that now successive presidents of the United States have realized that India is a destination.

And I'm very pleased, actually, that George Bush is not going to Taj Mahal. You have to get out of the stereotypes: India is not the Taj Mahal and snake charmers and so on. It is about freedoms, which are very powerful realities.

BLOCK: One thing that George Bush will not be doing, which Bill Clinton did do in his visit back in 2000, is address the Indian Parliament. Why not?

Mr. AKBAR: Because there is great amount of anger on Iraq, where a lot of Indians share the anger of the world against not only the war itself in Iraq, but the management of it. We live in that neighborhood, we can't withdraw from it. Maybe at some point America will withdraw from Iraq. But people who live in the neighborhood can't withdraw. So for us, it is going to be a far greater reality. But if he had addressed Parliament, you would have people standing up and demonstrating during his speech.

BLOCK: Mr. Akbar, good of you to come in, thanks so much.

Mr. AKBAR: Thank you.

BLOCK: M.J. Akbar is editor-in-chief of The Asian Age in New Delhi. He's currently a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy here in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.