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'It's never too late to do the right thing'

April 13, 2006 20:45 IST

 Ambassador Karl F Inderfurth is  the John O Rankin Professor of the Practice of International Affairs and Director of the International Affairs Program at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs. He served as Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs (1997-2001), Special Representative of the President and Secretary of State for Global Humanitarian Demining (1997-1998) and US Representative for Special Political Affairs to the United Nations, with ambassadorial rank (1993-1997).

Ambassador Inderfurth worked as a national security and later a Moscow Correspondent for ABC News (1981-1991) and received an Emmy Award in 1983. He also served on the staffs of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees and the National Security Council.

Along with Professor Loch K Johnson, he is the author of Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council, published by Oxford University Press in 2004. He received his MA from Princeton University, his BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and was a Fulbright Scholar at Strathclyde University in Scotland.

In an exclusive chat with readers, Ambassador Inderfurth explains the importance of the nuclear deal, and who the real gainers are. The transcript:

koopi asked, Dear Ambassador Inderfurth, As an Indian living in the US, I wonder about the lack of context in the discussions on the Indo-US nuclear deal. Most deal opponents don't even know that the US has cleared a deal to supply nuclear deal to China without IAEA safeguards. Why is there so much angst that India has nuclear weapons?
Karl Inderfurth answers, I would agree that there is a "lack of context" in the discussions on the proposed nuclear agreement. That is why I am hopeful that the hearings that began last week with Sec. of State Rice in the Senate and the House will serve not only a convincing purpose -- to persuade members of Congress that this is a good agreement for both the United States and India -- but also an educational purpose -- to inform people about India's energy needs, about India's excellent record with respect to non proliferation, and why there are important environmental issues also at play.

ramananda asked, Reports link India's recent announcement that it plans to make one of the world's largest military aircraft purchases, one that could exceed US$10 billion, to the nuclear deal. ie: the Indian government might drop the US fighters from the list if the nuclear deal fails to make it through Congress. What do you think?
Karl Inderfurth answers, I have not heard of any such arrangement, and I certainly hope that there is not one. These are two separate issues. US-India nuclear cooperation, which I support, is one important new element of our new ties. So is defense cooperation, including the possibility of our two countries entering into military sales and coproduction arrangements. I am hopeful both of these new areas of potential cooperation can proceed on their own merits.
Shaun asked, The US-India civilian nuclear agreement has won its fair share of critics and supporters. But this deal or at least the broad contours of it-from my understanding-was initially broached during the Clinton and Vajpayee governments; please explain the contours of those discussions and why those talks collapsed?
Karl Inderfurth answers, You are right, the US-India agreement has won its fair share of critics and supporters -- in both countries! You are also right that "the broad contours" of the agreement have been out there for some time, although certainly not in the specifics and details that we see with the July agreement in Washington and then the Separation Plan during President Bush's visit in March. By "broad contours" I mean this. During the Clinton administration -- and in advance of the President's trip in March of 2000 -- I was asked to pull together a brief paper on the "Ten Reasons Why We Need to Engage India." One of those reasons that I sent to the White House was to help move India toward the global nonproliferation mainstream. Later, in 2003, I was part of a Council on Foreign Relations/Asia Society task force on India and South Asia that also said we need to engage India on nonproliferation concerns and find ways to work together. And, of course, that is exactly what the current US-India civilian nuclear agreement does.
Shaun asked, Greetings Ambassador Inderfurth and thank you for joining us.It was during the Clinton administration and Vajpayee government that a qualitative change in relations began to emerge; the subsequent Bush administration and Manmohan Singh government has not only continued these renewed these ties but broadened them to include numerous converging interests between the two democracies. From an American viewpoint-especially from the administration where this shift initially and significantly began-what specific events or realization hastened this rapprochement?
Karl Inderfurth answers, From the American viewpoint, I believe the end of the Cold War and the start of the economic reform and liberalization process in India (with your current Prime Minister playing a critically important role then as Finance Minister)-- all in the early 1990s -- set the stage for the new relationship that we see today. President Clinton clearly recognized that we had a new opportunity to forge close ties with India. The visit of then First Lady Hillary Clinton to India in 1995 also helped convince the president that we needed to 'get moving' with this effort! Clearly President Bush also, from Day 1 of his administration, saw the wisdom of this new approach. I should also mention that even with this change of attitude on the part of the American leadership, the new ties that we see today could not have occurred with a reciprocal interest on the part of India's leadership. Here I must say that Prime Ministers Gujral, Vajpayee and Singh have all been key to the enhanced and engaged US-India relationship that we see today.
VijayN asked, Why was India not in the NPT in first place. Please don't insult your and my intelligence by giving the reason as "India didn't sign the treaty" or that it didn't want to. NPT is not god given. It is man made treaty negotiated between countries representing people. Treaties are negotiated not forced down the throat. Treaties under duress are invalid under international law. How come the other countries choose NOT to develop / negotiate a treaty that one fifth of humanity (Indians) can sign. And how come the other countries break international law by repeatedly trying to force India to sign a treaty instead of negotiating one.
Karl Inderfurth answers, I believe we all know what India did not sign the NPT in the first place -- and why it has no intention of signing it today. May I call your attention to an excellent account of how the US side learned -- in great detail and depth -- about India's thinking in this regard and about India's security compulsions. It is entitled Engaging India and was written by my former colleague at the State Department, Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott. He discusses in his book the exchanges he had with the former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh after the nuclear tests of May 1998. While we certainly did not resolve all our differences during the course of these talks -- over two and a half years --
we did learn to finally listen to what the other had to say, setting the stage, I believe, for the kind of relationship we have today.
Deshpreme asked, On what moral grounds, is USA - a country which has been accumulating thousands of nuclear weapons since 1945 and the only country in the world which has used nuclear weapon (killing thousands) in the history of world - has any right, to tell other countries NOT to produce nuclear weapons ? At 8000+ miles, USA is still worried about China's nuclear might and it's next door neighbor, India shouldn't be ? By the way, the so called NPT has NOT yet been ratified by US Congress, making it just a worthless piece of paper. India, which waited nearly 25 years between it's first and second nuclear test, is world's largest democracy and we, the people (1/6th of world's population) 'chose' not to sign the NPT. May be we should have signed it and not ratified it instead :) So, my question to you, Sir, is - when is US planning to get rid of it's nuclear arsenal ?
Karl Inderfurth answers, A couple of quick points. The US has signed and ratified the NPT, but, along with others, I do not believe we have done as much as we should or could to pursue our obligations under Article 6 of that treaty -- which calls for nuclear weapons states to work toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons. With the Cold War over, I think the US can reduce our arsenal to much lower levels that we have announced (most recently, in 2002, with the Treaty of Moscow). As for a treaty we have signed, but not ratified, that would be the test ban treaty, the CTBT. I was most disappointed that during the Clinton administration the US Senate voted against that treaty. I do not believe nuclear tests are needed by the US or others. Hopefully a future US administration will come back to the treaty -- and hopefully one day India will also find itself in a position to join us.
Ukindian asked, Dear Sir, Is usa putting pressure on india to cancel the iran-india pipeline deal? or is there any opposition from americans to the indians?
Karl Inderfurth answers, The administration has said that it does not favor the proposed pipeline deal. I do not know whether 'pressue' is being brought to bear. But I do know that this proposal is yet another example of India's search for new energy course, which will be essential to fuel India's growing economy. So I am hopeful that the US administration will take this into account in its strategic dialogue with Indian officials.
chimps asked, Sir with all due respect, I dont think the US can afford both India and China as adversaries and between them India is a safer bet as an ally. Dont u think so ?
Karl Inderfurth answers, We have been talking here about US-India relations, but there's no doubt that the rise of Asia's other giant -- China -- is a development the US is paying a great deal of attention to. In fact, China's president will be here in Washington on April 20. I do believe that the US needs to pursue its relations with both India and China on their own merits, and not try to manipulate this 'triangle' for our own geopolitical purposes. I know that India certainly does not want to be seen (or used) as a counterweight or hedge against China. So let's see our relations proceed with all members of this 'triangle' on a cooperative basis, including our economic interaction. I should also add, by the way, that the US certainly does recognize which of the two Asia giants is a democracy, and which is not.
RahilM asked, Who in your opinion is the real gainer from this nuclear deal, the US and India.
Karl Inderfurth answers, I believe the "real gainer" will be several. The US and India will gain because it will be another building block in the close relationship -- across the board -- that our two countries are constructing. India will gain because of the critical energy needs that this agreement is fundamentally about. The US will gain because as India's economy grows (with the needed energy requirements), so will the opportunities for US trade and invesment. And the International Community writ large will gain because India will now become a closer partner with the global nonproliferation regime. That is, by the way, the reason why the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, supports the proposed nuclear agreement.
pothuru asked, Hello Sir, Do you think USA will give pakistan the same deal as india?
Karl Inderfurth answers, President Bush has already said that this civilian nuclear agreement is one that applies to the US and India, and no other country.
vikas asked,  With all due repsect for the N-deal.. do u plan to do something for the embarresment faced by indian scientists and reearch workers working in U.S. and the once who faced troubles(and were actually humiliated) for VISA.
Karl Inderfurth answers, I trust and hope that these instances will soon be part of our distant past.
Jones asked, Will the deal go thro the congress Whats your strong and honest feeling ?
Karl Inderfurth answers, I believe it will go through, but we (ie, its supporters) are not there yet.
nisha asked, what is the likely outcome in the House and Senate? Can a majority be cobbled or are bothe Republicans and Democrats likely to abandon Pres Bush
Karl Inderfurth answers, I believe a majority can be pulled together, which will include both Republicans and Democrats. What has been most interesting is that there has been a great deal of policy continuity on strengthing US-India ties, from President Clinton's administration to the current Bush administration. I am hopeful that this will extend to support for the nuclear agreement.
Indian31 asked, Why did US realize that India is a responsible nation only now? Why not before?
Karl Inderfurth answers, It is never too late to do the right thing!
Karl Inderfurth says, I regret that I must sign off now. I apologize for not getting to all your questions and comments. As you noticed, I tried to stay on the subject of the US-India nuclear ageeement, although I was tempted to go astray to respond to some of your other queries! My very best to you all, Karl Inderfurth
 Earlier chat: 'India has too much to offer the US': Dr Harold Gould
Complete coverage:
The Bush visit: | Chats | The nuclear deal
Ambassador Karl F Inderfurth chat transcript