//The price of getting the nuclear deal cleared by the US Congress

The price of getting the nuclear deal cleared by the US Congress


– The price of getting the nuclear deal cleared by the US Congress

The euphoria over the Indo-US nuclear deal has vanished. With the legislation having been tabled in the US Congress last week for validating the agreement between the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and the president of the United States of America, George W. Bush, New Delhi will soon realize that it is payback time for India.

A day after the Congress took up the bill to legalize the deal, an influential US website, which is accessed almost daily by most Americans involved in strategic issues prominently, put out an item which has the potential to alarm many senators and members of the House of Representatives, whose support is vital for the legislation to go through. The item carried the headline: “India: Still supports the Palestinian cause”.

That item is a straw in the wind. It is the first indication that the Jewish lobby in America is about to demand its pound of flesh for all that it has done for Indo-US relations and for what Israel has done for India in the last eight years.

The turnaround in relations between New Delhi and Washington has been a process which took more than 15 years and it is no accident that the beginning of the process coincided with India’s decision, first to vote at the United Nations to repeal a resolution that equated Zionism with racism, and then to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. Siddhartha Shankar Ray, one-time Indian ambassador in Washington, was among the first to recognize the potential of America’s Jewish lobby and to use that lobby to move New Delhi’s relations with Washington forward. Those who came to head the Indian mission in Washington after him followed in Ray’s footsteps.

It is an indication of the power of the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill that in the instance of an American naval analyst who spied for Israel, not one prominent US legislator has dared to say a word against the convicted spy: instead, several of them have been clamouring for his release from prison, although he engaged in espionage against their own country.

A few days ago, Bush was forced to call off a deal with Dubai under which the Emirate’s leading port management firm would have run several of America’s major ports. The White House had staked its prestige and reputation on seeing that deal through. Bush had even threatened to veto any Congressional action against the deal, but was forced to beat an embarrassing retreat in the face of stiff opposition to Dubai.

At the root of the opposition to the Bush administration’s port agreement with the state-owned Gulf company was a carefully laid out plan by Israel and America’s Jewish lobby to bury the Arab boycott of Israel once and for all. Dubai has nothing in practice against Israel, although it pays lip service to the Palestinian cause and funds the Palestinians, which the Emirate’s rulers privately describe as protection money.

Most Arab states have ended the ‘secondary’ boycott, under which they refuse to do any business with enterprises which have a physical presence in Israel, and the ‘tertiary’ boycott of businesses which have relationships with enterprises which operate in Israel. Only the ‘primary’ boycott of products and services which originate in Israel remains but even that is frayed, with Saudi Arabia agreeing, for example, to end the boycott altogether as the price for joining the World Trade Organization.

But Israel and America’s Jewish lobby have decided that it is not enough and that they must end the Arab boycott, first imposed by the Arab League 61 years ago, altogether. In going ahead with this resolve, it did not matter to them that any opposition that is organized against the port deal with Dubai would embarrass Bush, who has done more than any other US president in recent memory for Israel or for the Jewish diaspora.

Dubai has now agreed to end the boycott of Israel as part of a free trade agreement that is currently under negotiation with Washington. It is a testimony not only to the ability of the Jewish lobby to manipulate US policies right inside the White House, but also a tribute to how effectively they can work behind the scenes.

If Bush did not stand a chance against this lobby, what hope does Manmohan Singh have if it decides that India must take a stand against the new Hamas administration in Palestine, elected in an exercise which the world has judged as free, fair and democratic? Isolating Hamas is now a priority for Israel, especially with France, Russia and a number of other significant world powers refusing to do so. As the debate in the US Congress on the nuclear deal advances, this is an issue which has the potential of becoming a ticking time bomb for the United Progressive Alliance, far more explosive than the vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency. That is, unless Ronen Sen, India’s ambassador in Washington, who has great credibility with the Jewish diaspora, and Raminder Singh Jassal, his deputy, who was Indian envoy in Tel Aviv until recently, manage to somehow placate America’s Jewish lobby.

But Hamas is not the only issue on which the Jewish lobby may demand its pound of flesh from India. It has a vested interested in Iran and in rolling back and eliminating Iran’s nuclear programme. The bill now before the US Congress insists that in order for the nuclear deal to be operative, the president must report to the senate foreign relations committee and the House of Representatives’ international relations committee that “India is supporting international efforts to prevent the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technology”. In plain language, it means that India must stand by the US in anything it does against Iran’s nuclear plans. A vast majority of US legislators will turn against the bill the moment they are told that India is not with the US on Iran.

The Bush administration managed to get bipartisan support for the introduction of the bill in the House of Representatives: it was jointly tabled by Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the house international relations committee, and Tom Lantos, the panel’s senior-most Democrat. But the irony is that Lantos has not yet decided whether to support the legislation.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, co-chair of the house caucus on India and Indian Americans, is not yet in favour of the deal. And in the senate, efforts to get the Democratic presidential contender in 2004, Senator John Kerry, or at least the senate foreign relations committee’s senior-most Democrat, Joseph Biden, to co-sponsor the legislation fell through.

The challenge before the Manmohan Singh government is not that the bill does not yet have many sponsors or that US legislators are not exactly lining up to vote for it. The US Congress is arguably one of the most corrupt institutions in the world, far more decadent than other similar bodies made up of politicians in the third world, which is often accused of corruption. In an election year such as this, the capacity of the Congress to wallow in corruption reaches phenomenal depths.

As Nicholas Burns, the Bush administration’s nuclear negotiator with India, said last week, not a single senator or member of the house has told him that he or she will definitely vote against the bill. What he did not — or could not — say was that they are all holding out.

If India wants the nuclear deal to go through in the Congress in an election year, New Delhi will have to buy US legislators one by one. Indian American Republicans and their counterparts among Democrats have privately calculated that this deal will cost the ethnic Indian community in America at least $8 million in election contributions to candidates to the Congress this year from both parties. But others believe that figure is an understatement and that it will cost many times more.

The question that New Delhi will have to consider is whether it can help organize this bribery, which will, of course, find legal channels into the system thoroughly in conformity with US laws.