The timing couldn't have been worse.
Canada and India are in what both countries believe are the final stages of negotiating an agreement that would let us sell them civil nuclear technology. The deal should be signed "in the near future," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters Tuesday following a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
But India's nuclear facilities have been placed on high alert, as evidence emerges that two men, one of them Canadian, might have scouted sites for the terrorist attack on Mumbai last year. They might have scoped nuclear facilities as well. The anniversary of the attack that killed nearly 200 people is only a week away. Hence the alert.
Does Canada really want to help sell nuclear technology to a country that is in the midst of such a volatile region, a country that in the 1970s appropriated our first foray into building Indian nuclear reactors to help fashion nuclear weapons, a country whose nuclear reactors would be an ideal ground zero for jihadists ?
Mr. Harper certainly thinks so. He took a tightly scripted media availability Tuesday and went off-script - to the surprise of everyone, including his staff - offering a lengthy and unqualified defence of India and its nuclear industry.
"We are not living in the 1970s; we are living in 2009," he told reporters. "… Notwithstanding the challenges that face this country and the neighbourhood in which it lives, this is a stable and reliable friend of our country, and we have certainly no reservations about pursuing this kind of an agreement."
Canada has waffled and weaved on its foreign policy goals for more than a decade. But now we have at least one firm rule: Hug India. And don't look too closely.
A civilian nuclear deal is essential for Canada. India is hungry for nuclear energy, and we desperately want to sell someone, anyone, our Candu technology.
More important, the agreement is the sine qua non of convincing India to expand trade ties with Canada. This is the nub of things. The Americans are cutting back on spending, as they seek to redress personal and national debt. India has ever-more of something America increasingly lacks: "Demand," as one Indo-Canadian business leader succinctly put it.
That is why, when Mr. Singh declined comment on the allegations against the alleged Canadian and American terrorist wannabes, citing the ongoing investigations, the normally taciturn Prime Minister ignored protocols laid down by the Indians for answering questions and waded in.
"Prime Minister Singh and I certainly discussed the case and are certainly resolved to co-operate closely in the future and exchange information in the future on these matters," he said.
"We are countries that have felt the pain of terrorism together," he went on. "…We're countries that very deeply share values.
"Unfortunately, the flip side of that in our world of today is that we also share threats. The same people who threaten the security and threaten terrorism to India inevitably have exactly the same intentions toward our own country. So we are certainly of one mind and of one purpose in resisting these forces all over the world."
End of conference.
It is now a bedrock foreign-policy goal to redress decades of distance in Canada-India relations. It is bedrock policy to do whatever it takes to sell into this burgeoning but turbulent market.
It may not be pretty. But at least it's clear.