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Ambassador Sen: 'We will have zero credibility'
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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August 20, 2007 12:07 IST
Last Updated: August 20, 2007 16:03 IST

India's Ambassador to the United States, Ronen Sen -- a key protagonist of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement, and the architect behind scripting the resurrection of the 123 Agreement as it lay virtually dormant for several months -- is quite aghast at the opposition to the deal from the Left parties, not to mention the Bharatiya Janata Party's attempts to torpedo it.
Warning that if the deal begins to unravel because of this opposition it would impact heavily on India's credibility and have grave implications for US-India relations in the future, Sen told Rediff India Abroad that the Hyde Amendment -- which has already been signed into law -- cannot be renegotiated. He declared that it would be a pity if the agreement is not operationalised before the end of the Bush Administration's tenure, because as in the prime minister's words there has not been, and unlikely to be in the near future, a President as friendly and supportive of India as President George W Bush [Images].
Sen said, "If you really look at it (the 123 Agreement), every single (concern) has been met," particularly with regard to reprocessing and assurances of fuel supplies to India's reactors even in the hypothetical case of India conducting a nuclear test, even though there has been no mention of 'testing' in the text.
"What is in the agreement which they are not satisfied with?" he asked. "Not one," and noted that such an agreement was unprecedented in the annals of India's history since its independence 60 years ago.
"All that is in the agreement," he said, "There is no precedence in the United States" either where such an agreement has been so transparent. "Even before it is signed, we made it public -- and that is the most authoritative."
"It has been approved here (in Washington, DC) by the President, and there (in New Delhi) it's been approved by the Indian cabinet. So why do you have all this running around like headless chicken, looking for a comment here or comment there, and these little storms in a tea-cup?"
Sen said he couldn't understand "why we don't have a little bit of confidence," and said he was "really amazed" over the current drama and debate being played out in New Delhi.
"I can understand (such a debate) immediately after independence," he said. "But 60 years after independence! I am really bothered that 60 years after independence, they are so insecure -- that we have not grown up, this lack of confidence and lack of self-respect."
Sen continued to reiterate that this was not a secret document but "a public document," and the fact that it was made available in the public domain "is unprecedented."
He argued that there seems "to be this gap between perception and reality," and said what the critics of the deal don't apparently comprehend is "the enormity of this change. That a country (the United States), which had taken the lead in setting up a regime (the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) where India was targeted, is taking the lead again to exempt India.'
"There has been no parallel of a single country exemption to any of the international regimes," he recalled, "not in the 21st century, the 20th, 19th, 18th, 17th, 16th, in any century. All what we are doing is absolutely unprecedented."
Sen said he simply couldn't understand the argument that India was "getting too close" to the United States, and said, "We are talking of the leading technological country in the world" which everybody else seems to have cottoned on to, "but our people have not or maybe they don't want to believe it."
He asserted that there can be no talk at all vis-�-vis the re-negotiation of the Hyde Amendment. "That's an issue that cannot even be considered."
Sen pointed out that "it is the law of the land," since President Bush has already signed it. "The law is very, very clear. It's on the books."
He said if India tries to re-negotiate this legislation, it would "have zero credibility."
"Can you imagine anybody telling us that this act of your Parliament has not been accepted by the United States and so you have to introduce new legislation and tell your Parliament that the legislation that has been adopted is not acceptable? You won't have any credibility."
According to the envoy, if this deal is not operationalised because the clock runs out in the wake of all the opposition in India and calls for special committees to review it and everything else, even after it has been made public and endorsed by both the US president and the Indian cabinet, "it would be a pity because what the prime minister said is very true -- that we will not, and there has not been and I don't think in the near future we will see such a friend and supporter as this President. Absolutely. There is none."
Sen said if the deal falls through, the implications would indeed be grave for US-India relations, and the entire broad-based agenda envisaged between both countries would be adversely impacted.
He argued that it was because of the excitement over this deal and what it could envisage for the strategic partnership between the US and India that had resulted in the proliferation of visits to India by leading CEOs of American companies. In the past few years, he pointed out, "There has been a quadrupling of visits to India by Senators and Congressmen, there has been a quadrupling of visits by presidents of universities, chancellors leading teams to India. Airlines like Delta, Continental deciding to have direct flights to India."
"So nothing happens by accident. It's not just symbolic. It's much, much more. But will we be able to get benefits out of all that, without this (nuclear agreement)?"
Sen asserted that "all of this is inter-linked. We cannot insulate this. People don't seem to realise that."
Meanwhile, senior diplomatic observers in Washington, DC, slammed the critics of the deal, particularly the BJP, saying that they obviously had made up their minds to oppose the agreement even before they saw the veritable iron-clad 123 Agreement, which was very much in favour of India in terms of addressing all of its concerns with regard to issues like reprocessing and assurances of continued fuel supplies to its civilian nuclear reactors.
"If you remember, people like (former minister) Yashwant Sinha reacted even before they saw the text. So obviously, they had made up their minds in advance, irrespective of even what we got."
The observers said, "The cat was out of the bag because they made their opposition clear even without seeing the text, even though they knew it's going to be made public and were informed of it."
One diplomatic observer, pointing to the BJP's assertions that it would abrogate the agreement if it came into power, recalled that none of the BJP's initiatives and reforms while in government could have been implemented "without Congress's support. They never would have been able to get it through."
Thus, according to this observer, it was beyond his comprehension that the BJP could be "so irresponsible," with statements such as abrogating the agreement if it assumed the reins of power.
"The opposition is supposed to be responsible, and here they are talking of, 'If we come to power, we'll abrogate the agreement'!"
The observer asked, "Has that ever been done? If you look at India in its 60 years, one thing that distinguishes India from any other country in any continent, is that we have always honoured our commitments."
"We have faced every challenge conceivable -- assassinations of political leaders, starting with Mahatma Gandhi [Images], border conflicts, natural disasters of unprecedented magnitude, oil shocks, economic crises, and we've had revolving door governments -- Chandra Shekhar, H D Deve Gowda, Inder Kumar Gujral -- but no government, no successor government, had changed (any agreement). We have always honoured our commitment. This is what distinguishes India -- not just that it is a democracy."
The observer argued that statements such as those warning of the abrogation of agreements "is absolutely going against -- flying against -- your own national interest and the way you are perceived."
"There was only one instance, when after an election a state government changed one contract, and that is Enron. (But) That was a state government. At the central level, none, not one, and that is the one thing that distinguishes us."
Thus, he argued that such statements, "are haphazard, like a childish tantrum saying, we are going to abrogate it, they don't even seem to be aware of what they are saying, the import of what they are saying."

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