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123 agreement is the N-deal: Boucher
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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September 19, 2007 09:19 IST
Last Updated: September 19, 2007 09:23 IST

A senior Bush administration official refused to be pinned down on whether the bilateral 123 civil nuclear cooperative agreement between the United States supersedes the Hyde Act, but declared that the deal between Washington and New Delhi "is the 123 Agreement and so that's the deal."

This was the first briefing by a senior US official -- who was among those who participated in the negotiations of the 123 Agreement -- in the wake of the raging debate in the Indian Parliament with the government's Leftist and Communist allies opposing the deal along with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher, said, "We have met all the requirements of the Hyde Act. Non-binding things (in the Hyde Act that have raised concerns among the deal's critics) we have to go back and see -- to what extent they are met."

Asked by, if the US too believes the 123 Agreement supersedes the Hyde Act as the Indian government has informed critics of the deal to alleviate their concerns over some non-binding provisions in the Hyde Act, Boucher said, "We don't see anything in the Hyde Act that constrains our relationship -- the kind of relationship we've reached."

The official, who was appearing at a Capitol Hill briefing titled 'The US-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement -- Next Steps for Congress and the US', sponsored by the US-India Business Alliance in cooperation with the Congressional Task Force on US-India Trade, pointed out, "The 123 Agreement is subsequent to the passage of the Hyde Act," and reiterated that "we think it's in full conformity with the Hyde Act."

"The deal between the United States and India is the 123 Agreement, and so that's the deal -- that's the operative. These are all the operative clauses, all the operative paragraphs, all the understandings between the two governments are in that document," Boucher said. "That's the deal with India. It's a deal for us and for them."

When pressed if that implied the administration believes the 123 Agreement supersedes the Hyde Act, Boucher once again refused to acquiesce to this terminology, saying only, "I don't think it's a meaningful statement one way or the other."

Earlier, Boucher when asked as to what the difference between the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement was by USIBA president Sanjay Puri, said, "The agreement in our terms is completely consistent with US law -- that includes the fundamentals like the US Atomic Energy Act and includes the Hyde Act."

"That means that the requirements of the law are met, but also it's an agreement that fits the parameters of what the Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh [Images]) and the President (George W Bush [Images]) agreed," he said. "It is full civil nuclear cooperation. It does provide for things like reprocessing in a separate facility for which there will be arrangements and procedures worked out and things like that that are important to the Indian side."

"We recognize that this was going to be a very broad, and we hope long relationship. So we think we've met all the parameters of our law and what the Congress asked us to do in a way that also meets the needs of the Indian side expressed in our negotiation," Boucher said.

In several instances during the briefing and the question and answer session that followed, Boucher, while appreciating the democratic process that has led to the debate in the Indian Parliament as it had during the run-up to the enabling Hyde legislation in the US Congress, made the point that time is of the essence.

"We shouldn't be surprised to see that there is a legitimate debate and discussion about these things," he acknowledged, but noted, "we also know that we all have political time-tables and it's better to move this as soon as possible."

"We are indeed looking to do that ourselves and we are looking to the Indians to do that when they can and so we will watch how this plays out in India and hopefully work together with our partners to make this happen," Boucher added.

At another point during the standing room only briefing in a Congressional committee room in the Rayburn House Building, the official said, "We are eager to get it done. We are all eager to move forward. We are aware of our political calendar. We are aware of politics in India."

"We are both in democratic countries, so let's accept that and say, we've each got to work it and work through it. The sooner we do it, the sooner we turn on the light bulbs, the sooner kids can do their homework. So it's worth both sides pursuing and trying to get it done," he added.

Boucher predicted, "We'll get through our political debates and we'll be on our way sometime."

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