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News :: International
US-India nuke deal is signed, sealed, and delivered
14 Oct 2008
WASHINGTON: Generations to come may slice and dice the US-India nuclear cooperation deal, but for now it has been firmly stated by New Delhi and broadly accepted in Washington that India will be bound only by the bilateral 123 Agreement with regards to the terms of the deal, other sentiments of the US Congress notwithstanding.
Nuke deal is signed, sealed, and delivered
11 Oct 2008, 2115 hrs IST, Chidanand Rajghatta,TNN

Having assured itself that US President George Bush asserted his executive stamp over legislative opinion in his statement that accompanied the signing of the nuclear bill into law, New Delhi sent its entire negotiating team led by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on a 10,000-mile, 12-hour visit to Washington for the 123 Agreement signing ceremony -- a modest affair in the State Department’s glittering Benjamin Franklin room. The team arrived in the afternoon, signed the agreement in the evening, and left for Delhi in the night.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose visit to New Delhi last week for the same purpose was rendered fruitless because of India’s anxiety over Bush’s signing statement, politely and pointedly thanked Mukherjee ''who flew all the way here from New Delhi to do this signing,'' before seeing them off without even a meal (the team dined at the their hotel). But for Mukherjee, a diplomatic maestro with nearly three-decades in the business, the objective of asserting India’s stand one last time in Washington was achieved.

''This is an agreement about civil nuclear cooperation and reflects a careful balance of rights and obligations. The agreement has been passed by the U.S. Congress without any amendment. This provision is now legally binding on both sides, once the agreement enters into force,'' he said in his remarks at the diplomatic ceremony before affixing his signature on the documents.

The assertion corrected any impression that the US Congress’ resolutions and sentiments amounted to an amendment and was legally binding on India, a position he elaborated later at a press conference. ''We are bound by the agreed text of the 123 Agreement, which is negotiated on the basis of the joint statements of President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July 2005 and March 2006,'' he said when asked if the nuclear deal was open to interpretation and if foreign relations could be conducted on the basis of trust. ''It’s not a merely a question of interpretation. It’s a question of agreed text.''

But in a tacit acknowledgment that trust would indeed be a basis for implementing the agreement, agreed text notwithstanding, Mukherjee’s written statement said ''We intend to implement this Agreement in good faith and in accordance with the principles of international law and I am confident that the US will also do the same.''

US officials once again explained that provisions of Congressional law would kick in only in the event of an Indian nuclear test, that too after consideration of mitigating circumstances of the test. One official who was involved in the negotiating process told ToI, ''The essence of this agreement corrects the over-reaction of the Clinton administration to India's test in 1998. India is a different country in 2008 and will be different still in 2018. Do you think the US can react the same way to an Indian test in 2018?''

Secretary Rice did not have to resort to any such verbal calisthenics or elaborate projection, befitting a country that is more confident of its objectives and more secure in its vision of future US-India ties.

''Many thought this day would never come. But doubts have been silenced now,'' she said at the signing ceremony, adding that ''with the conclusion of this civil nuclear agreement, our partnership will be limited only by our will and our imagination.''

Indeed, the broad vision she laid out sounded straight out of the Left manifesto: let us use our partnership to drive a new social justice agenda for the 21st century by promoting good and uncorrupt governance, by expanding free and fair global trade, by advancing health and education, and supporting the millions and millions of people who are striving to lift themselves out of poverty.

But the underlying strategic objective was never too far. ''Let no one assume, though, that our work is now finished,'' she said. ''Indeed, what is most valuable about this agreement is how it unlocks a new and far broader world of potential for our strategic partnership in the 21st century, not just on nuclear cooperation but on every area of national endeavor.''

Around the time she was saying this, elsewhere in Washington’s corridors of powers, U.S strategists were discussing – and even demanding -- a greater role for India in containing the growing conflagration on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In fact, asked at his press conference about New Delhi’s stand on Pakistan seeking a similar nuclear deal, Mukherjee said India would have no problem with it, perhaps confident that a country which was descending into chaos and bankruptcy and which India was being asked to help save should have other priorities.

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