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No shifting of goal posts in N-deal: Mulford
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC |
April 25, 2006 12:14 IST
US Ambassador to India David Mulford has denied that there has been any shifting of goal posts vis-à-vis the US-India civilian nuclear deal in the wake of the controversy that has cropped up over the proposed American text of the new bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation accord that warns all bets would be off if India were to detonate a nuclear explosive device.
After the text was leaked in New Delhi, India rejected this provision contained in the bilateral agreement known as 'the 123 Agreement' that was given to Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran when he visited Washington in March to tie up the loose ends of the pact that his counterpart Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, and the chief US negotiator of the deal, who had earlier described as simply a formality and a purely technical agreement that was a shoo-in.
Mulford during the question and answer session that followed his speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, asked by rediff India Abroad how this new 'fly in the ointment' was going to be resolved, declared, that in the July 18 US-India Joint Statement, India "made a unilateral declaration confirming its policy that it was not going to make any more testing. That was agreed."
Thus, he asserted, "There's no change in the goal posts, which unfortunately has somehow gotten into the media and become an issue. But it shouldn't be an issue because the goal posts haven't been moved. That's the reality."
Mulford, who is in Washington to discuss details on the deal with the US Congress and push for their approval of the legislation to amend the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954 that will envisage the consummation of the US-India civilian nuclear deal, said on the legislation in Congress, "Whatever it says on this issue will be a matter for US legislators and US law."
But he noted, "The (bilateral) agreement between the United States and India, which is not the legislation but the agreement, that's being worked on, there will have to be some sort of wording, arrangements which have not been agreed. It's a matter to be discussed, but I think what you characterised really is not the expectation. Therefore, I think the fly will move out of the ointment."
Why the hold-up in concluding this bilateral agreement becomes a stumbling block is because many lawmakers have said they would like to take a look at this as well as the safeguards agreement that India negotiates with the International Atomic Energy Agency on 14 of the 22 nuclear reactors that it has listed as civilian in its separation plan, before they cast their vote on legislation to amend the 1954 Atomic Energy Act that would envisage an Indian-specific exemption to facilitate the approval of the nuclear deal.
Administration sources have complained that India is yet to get back to the US with its draft agreement so that both sides could discuss it and reach a compromise and hammer out this accord which seemingly was a formality a few months ago but now has the making of, if not a stumbling block, clearly a delaying irritant.
Last week, the Bush administration's point man for South Asia, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affaris Richard Boucher declared that as far as the US is concerned, India's public moratorium on further nuclear weapons testing is the lynchpin of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement.
He said, "We all understand that India has a moratorium on nuclear testing and has made a public commitment itself, based on its own decision to continue that moratorium on nuclear testing."
"That's very important to us and others who look forward to cooperating with India in the area of civilian nuclear power and we look for that to continue and that's one of the basis on which we are establishing the new cooperation," he said.
Asked if there was any pressure by the US to cajole India into making that commitment contained in the US text of the bilateral agreement, now rejected by India in the wake of the leak of the document, Boucher reiterated, "You see that in the draft law (introduced in Congress) and elsewhere, the fact that the Indian decision to have a moratorium on nuclear testing is one of the basis on which we can undertake this civilian nuclear cooperation."
The Bharatiya Janata Party and other members of the opposition have alleged that this is Washington's modus operandi to commit India to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty through the back-door.
Boucher said the US was "certainly ready to do that (negotiate the agreement) pretty soon, but I'll have to hear from the Indians," and "we'll sit down and negotiate with them".
However, he acknowledged, "Obviously, we don't have the exact same position on the text. We have to talk about it, but that's a normal part of diplomatic life. We look forward to doing it. So I don't see it as overly complicated, although the whole process, one has to remember -- you have to negotiate the agreement and then we have to go through the whole process here with our Congress to get it approved. So it's important that when we ask our Senators and Congressmen to vote on this civilian nuclear arrangement, that they understand not just sort of the overall picture… but they also understand what some of the other pieces are."
"And so, as India proceeds with its talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the safeguards agreement, as we proceed with India on the bilateral agreement, we hope these things will move forward and we will be able to keep our Congress well informed so that they understand where the different pieces are as they proceed with their work on their piece," he added.
Mulford, asked how critical it was that the deal be approved quickly by Congress and if it were possible before the end of the Congressional year in September, said, "Most of the members of Congress that I've seen -- many of them visiting India, often for the first time -- all seem to feel that this is something that we should move on with as quickly as we can."
"But realistically, nobody is quite sure, what that means and therefore that is in the hands of the Congress and their calendar and agenda," he added.
According to Mulford, "The hope, I would say, is to move it sooner rather than later -- that means to most people, before September. But I think there are other people who say, 'Well, it may be something that is impossible and may have to be addressed later.' But every effort is being made to move it quickly."
He argued that with negotiations still going on and more testimony being provided to lawmakers and questions being asked, "it will be a time-consuming exercise. There is also the dialogue with the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA. So it is a many moving parts situation and some of the parts will be looking at the other parts to see how they are getting along as it develops."
Consequently, Mulford said, "It's very hard to give a very clear answer to that except to say that the intent of the two governments and many of the members of Congress is something that we should address and move ahead."