Washington, Oct.16: An Indian-American delegation led by the head of the U S India Business Alliance will travel to India this week in a bid to build support for a troubled nuclear deal between the two countries.
Sanjay Puri, the president of the business group and chairman of the influential U S India Political Action Committee, said Indian-American business and community leaders would meet with government and opposition leaders in India who have pressured Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to back away from the deal.
"We have a viewpoint why we're for this agreement, why we think it's a win-win for both countries," Puri said in an interview on Monday.
Puri believes Indian-Americans can play a unique role in building support for the deal in both countries.
"We consider ourselves in many ways a bridge between the two countries. So we want to make sure the bridge's viewpoints are heard on both sides," Puri said.
The visit comes days after Singh appeared to be signalling that his government may be backing away from the deal, which has drawn opposition from groups both within and outside his ruling coalition.
Singh relayed this to President Bush in a telephone call over the weekend.
Singh told Bush that "certain difficulties have arisen with respect to the operationalisation" of the deal, according to a release posted on the Indian Embassy's website that mostly dealt with trade issues.
If the deal were stalled for some time, it would be a significant blow to the Bush administration, which has hailed it as a historic achievement.
Congress, in one of its last actions under Republican leadership late last year, approved legislation allowing civilian nuclear cooperation with India after Bush asked that it be a priority. The legislation was a first step toward approval of the accord.
Even after that action, however, the deal faced several hurdles, including the completion of a deal between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over inspections of Indian nuclear facilities.
India and the U.S. also must persuade the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an international body whose members implement guidelines on nuclear exports, to accept the agreement.
Because of political opposition in India, Singh has delayed negotiations between his government and the IAEA and NSG.
In the U.S., Congress must give its approval to a technical agreement with India on nuclear trade that was concluded in July. Sceptics in Congress have criticized the deal, which would allow nuclear trade with India even though that country has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which forbids members from developing nuclear weapons.
Puri said officials on his delegation would argue the nuclear deal offers benefits to both countries. The deal could help India, which now imports 80 percent of its energy, deal with a pressing need, and would also lead to increased trade between both countries, particularly as India's economy continues to grow.
Most importantly, Puri argues, the deal would lead to closer ties between the U.S. and India, two countries that he said share close values. "It's beneficial for the United States to have a partner like India in that part of the world politically, geopolitically, strategically but also economically," he said.
While Indian-Americans might not reap particular benefits from the completion of a U.S.-India nuclear agreement, Puri said they likely would benefit from increased trade resulting from the deal, particularly in the defence sector, which he said has a healthy Indian-American workforce.