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Moratorium on nuclear testing vital to N-deal: US
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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April 21, 2006 09:43 IST

The Bush administration has said that as far as the United States is concerned, India's public moratorium on further nuclear weapons testing is the linchpin of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement.

Following India's rejection on April 17 - after it was leaked that the preliminary draft of the bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation agreement called for a cap on nuclear testing, warning that cooperation would be immediately suspended if India were to detonate a nuclear explosive device - Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher 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."

 Thus, Boucher, the Bush administration's point man for South Asia noted during an interaction with the media on April 20, "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 added, "So it's not surprising to find that encoded in various forms in documents we write and statements we make. But it was India's decision to do that just as the major nuclear powers themselves have decided not to test."

Asked if there was any pressure by the US to cajole India into making that commitment contained in the bilateral agreement, also known as the 123 Agreement, being negotiated, Boucher reiterated that 'you see that in the draft law(introduced in Congress) and elsewhere, the Indian decision to have a moratorium on nuclear testing is one of the basis on which we can undertake this civilian nuclear cooperation'.

Immediately after this provision contained in the draft agreement handed over to Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran by the US when he visited last month for discussions on the deal were leaked in New Delhi, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said, "In preliminary discussions on these elements, India has already conveyed to the US that such a provision has no place in the proposed bilateral agreement and that India is bound only by what is contained in the July 18 Joint Statement, that is, continuing its commitment to a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing."

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, asked by rediff India Abroad if the bilateral agreement that some members of Congress have said they would like to look at along with India's negotiated safeguards with the International Atomic Energy Agency before they make up their mind on which way to vote on the proposed nuclear deal could start unraveling in the wake of this new hiccup, said, "We do think it's a fairly straight-forward process."

"It's going to be something that we have to negotiate, we have to discuss. We are not going to discuss it through the press or in public.We are not going to start posturing based on positions ascribed to us or pieces of paper that may have been leaked," he said, and added, "We look forward to hearing from the Indian government and sitting down with them to negotiate."

Boucher said he had 'no precise timing' on when an Indian team would be coming to Washington to negotiate this bilateral agreement, which has been described as a 'very technical agreement', which the chief US interlocutor, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, had earlier predicted would be a shoo-in and a mere formality. 

Boucher said the US were '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  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 IAEA 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.

Complete coverage: The India-US nuclear tango

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