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Home > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Strategic expert K Subrahamnayam

'Many nations want the N-deal to go through'

January 31, 2008

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The Indo-US nuclear deal is once again in the news with US Ambassador David C Mulford reminding India that "time is of essence" and it is better if the deal is completed soon or warned that the deal can be pushed back to 2010.

However in India the nuclear deal is on the back-burner till the Left parties and ruling United Progressive Alliance government sort out their differences in the joint committee formed for the purpose. The committee is waiting for the copy of the India-specific safeguards agreement with International Atomic Energy Agency which is being negotiated right now.

While the US is edgy over the delay, in India supporters of the deal are a frustrated lot. Those opposed to the deal are keeping their fingers crossed as they suspect that the government might be doing things clandestinely.

It is well known that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] has put his weight behind the deal. Throughout this controversy, at least publicly, Congress President Sonia Gandhi [Images] too has supported the deal. But, when the critical moment comes to give the go ahead for the operationalisation of the deal it will be entirely Gandhi's call. The Left parties have repeatedly said that if deal is operationalised they will withdraw support to the government.

As the matter stands today, it is difficult to predict if the Congress will have political nerve to go ahead and risk the Left parties wrath.

On January 30, Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary and the prime minister's special envoy on the nuclear deal, met leader of the Opposition and Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani to brief him on the deal. This shows that nuclear deal is not dead yet.

K Subrahamnayam, strategic thinker and staunch supporter of the deal debates the issue with Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt.

Are you frustrated by the delay in signing the Indo-US nuclear deal?

Yes. The delay is caused due to purely political purposes. I am confident even now that the nuclear deal will go through.

When and how?

By the middle of February, the safeguards agreement with IAEA will be sorted out. Then, it will be shown to the UPA-Left committee. That meeting may not be held in February. It is likely to be held after the Budget session. It will be an election Budget with many goodies for the people. Then the UPA will have to question the Communists if they are with them or not? If the Communists think otherwise and withdraw support, the UPA will be forced to go for election. In the election, the Nandigram [Images] violence and bird flu in West Bengal will be issues. The Communists will have to factor in these things. Is it advisable for them to go in for election so soon?

But it is safe to claim that even Congress party does not want an election.

But in the remaining six months what is the government going to gain?

Whether to go for early election will be entirely Sonia Gandhi's call.

As the days go by she will realise that after the Budget it is time to go for an election. It will depend on how she is persuaded by the prime minister and others. Nobody is ready for the election but these are all assumptions. Will the Communist parties decide to commit suicide or not. Will they be prepared to go for election and sacrifice West Bengal and Kerala [Images]?

What went wrong in the saga of the nuclear deal?

Nothing went wrong. Actually, things have happened very fast. The delay started only after the 123 Agreement was finalised. Until that time things went faster than anywhere else in the world. Things have now gone down because of this mindless opposition.

How do you see the IAEA negotiations?

IAEA is not even a nation state. It is just an agency of the UN. I cannot go to IAEA and say that I have right to conduct the nuclear test. I am a sovereign nation. If I want to conduct the test I will conduct the test. I won't ask for anybody's permission. All these people who are saying that we must have the right to test, I am worried their sense of sovereignty of the country. I don't need anybody's permission. I don't want the Americans to give me the right to test. Why should I ask them? Did we ask for permission in 1974 or 1998?

But there are clauses that says that if India conducts the test the fuel supply can be stopped and entire investment will turn risky.

Who said that? There is also the clause in Indo-US agreement that says they will have to pay for it.

Even you had a problem with the Hyde Act. Why?

No, I don't have any problem with the Hyde Act. In the US, any act is of no use till it is invoked by the administration. There is the Pressler Act which says that if Pakistan was found making bombs then aid to Pakistan should stop.

When Pakistan was found guilty, the US administration dragged it feet for five years and never took action.

Another act states that if Chinese supplied certain things to Pakistan there should be action against China but for seven years the President's office kept quiet.

But India is a big country. Why allow the US to keep the window open?

The US is such country where there is a legislative branch and foreign policy is with the President. As long as you keep things with the presidency and so long as he declares that he is not going to take into account� that's it!

Here people are saying go and get the Hyde Act changed. Are you going to get it done? Here every other major nation of the world is telling you to go ahead with the deal. If the Communists are interested in India having nuclear deal with China then they should allow the safeguards agreements to go through. If anybody is interested in dealing with Russia [Images] and France [Images] then safeguards agreement with IAEA should go through. Those who oppose the safeguards agreement don't want any technological collaboration with rest of the world. Even, China wants India to grow faster because as India's contribution to world economy increases the US share will come down. Similarly, US wants India to grow faster because it will create a balance of power in Asia. France and Britain also want the nuclear Indo-US nuclear deal. The only people opposed to the nuclear deal are Indians.

(Communist Party of India-Marxist General Secretary) Prakash Karat and many Left thinkers have never opposed the safeguards agreement. As it is they are not in favour of nuclear power or bombs. The safeguards agreement is not a main issue for them. They are opposing the Hyde Act.

They are opposing the safeguards agreement, too. How do you operationalise the nuclear deal without the safeguards agreement? How can you deal with China, France or Russia without operationalising the nuclear deal?

What is your comment on Arun Shourie's exhaustive write ups on the nuclear deal? What do you think of the BJP's stand on the deal?

In the BJP, the person who knows the best on all these things is (former national security advisor) Brajesh Mishra. He has made it clear that if he gets two assurances, he is for the deal. One, he wants assurance on Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and right to test. Both these assurances have been given by the prime minister. I think the opposition to nuclear deal comes out of the argument that the Hyde Act will prevail over the US administration. That's not true. People should read the book Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons. The US government can completely take Congress for a ride.  The Congress cannot act unless the government acts or the government brings it to them.

How do you view the strong and successful resistance of the Left parties?

The resistance is also for economic reforms. The Left can slow down the nuclear deal but they cannot stop things going in that direction. I can't say if Karat is successful or not. Only history will judge him.

Many media persons who report on political parties think that the nuclear deal may not come through.

To me it appears that if you don't operationalise the nuclear deal you will be delaying India's progress for many years. You will have to ensure that if the appropriate government is elected they will be able to sort the nuclear deal issue. I am still confident that UPA will be able to assert their position and get the nuclear deal through. I am speaking on basis of rationality. The Left will have to accept it. If Left is prepared to say that, "we will sacrifice West Bengal and Kerala but what is important is our opposition to US!" If they take this line and continue to oppose I can't say what will happen.

On the balance are you hopeful?

Yes. I think the future government in Washington (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or whoever is elected) is not even going to throw the deal out. Whatever Arun Shourie may write or Yashwant Sinha may say, I don't think a future BJP government will reject this nuclear deal.

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