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The ball is now in India's court: Mulford
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | December 19, 2006 09:38 IST
US Ambassador to India David Mulford, wholly acknowledging that there are still several more steps to be completed before civilian nuclear reactors and other nuclear technology can begin to be transferred to India, nonetheless pointed out that with President Bush's signing of the enabling legislation to facilitate the US-India civilian nuclear agreement, one major breakthrough had been achieved -- a change in US law that envisages nuclear trade with India.
In an exclusive interview with rediff.com, immediately after the signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Monday, Mulford said, "The first thing I would say is that there are lots of things still to do, but the most important thing -- the change in US law -- has been accomplished. And that was the biggest challenge and that has been done."
The envoy said the next step to be achieved "is the (bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation) 123 Agreement, and the speed with which that is done will depend really upon how quickly India wants to engage and finish it up."
"So we are looking forward to hearing from them as soon as possible that they want to get back together and finish that negotiation," he added.
Mulford explained that "once that agreement is accomplished, that will be placed in front of the Congress for 90 business days, and at the end of that time, the Congress votes up or down, yes or no on that item."
"At the same time, the Nuclear Suppliers Group has already been substantially contacted by India -- they've done a great job -- and we've also been talking to people and we think the consensus is building there. So it wouldn't surprise me to see that come together maybe in April at the time of their plenary meeting. And, finally, there's the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) meeting -- that's up to India. That's in their hands; between India and the IAEA.
"So if you add all those things up, it seems to me that it all really depends on how quickly India completes the negotiation on the 123 Agreeement because until that's really done, the rest of the pieces will not move very far," Mulford said.
"When it is done, things should move quite quickly," he predicted. "So it may be finished and open for business by say June or it may take longer and get pushed back into autumn. We don't know."
Mulford asserted that it's imperative that India act on it expeditiously because the momentum should not be lost. "It's not only important, but it's also -- I would have thought -- a huge incentive for them to get through with this so that they can start to work on their nuclear (energy) challenge because that's what this whole thing is about."
The envoy said that for all of the opposition of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Leftist allies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government, who have expressed their fierce opposition to the conference committee legislation signed by the president, it is likely they would come on board once all of the nuances of the agreement are understood fully.
"Some of the comments that were made after the bill was passed could perhaps be understood because what happened was that on the very last days of the Congressional operation, there were a number of changes to the bill that I think a lot of people didn't pick up or weren't aware of having been made.
"But I think the end product that came out really meets the needs not only of the Indian government, but should address most of the issues that were on the minds of the critics," he said.
Mulford said he could predict "how the politics will play out, but I can tell you that the Indian people favour this deal --they are excited about it. Every place I go in India, everybody I talk to, and generally the media, has at the end of the day come around to be really strong supporters. So it will go alright."
He was also optimistic that the scientific establishment led by the likes of Dr Anil Kakodkar, chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, who have continued to express qualms about some of the elements of the bill, would also come around, and noted that thus far -- save for some concerns -- they have been generally supportive. "They have a few concerns, but I think they'll find those have been met and I don't see why they would have a continuing problem."
"But you know, they'll have to make their own judgment on that," Mulford emphasised.