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India bound by agreed text of 123 Agreement: Pranab

Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington | October 11, 2008 13:02 IST

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India on Saturday made it clear that it was bound only by the agreed text of the 123 Agreement after it inked the landmark pact to operationalise the nuclear deal with the US, culminating three years of intense efforts from both sides to reverse 34 years of its nuclear isolation.

Winding up his day-long visit to Washington during which he signed the civilian nuclear cooperation pact with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images], External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said he was satisfied with fuel supply assurances specified not only in the accord but also in the Presidential Statement.

"We will implement this agreement in good faith. That clearly implies we trust each other," he told reporters responding to a query on the issue of trust in foreign policy.

Mukherjee maintained that he was aware of the internal mechanisms and processes of the US but would not comment on the process of legislation in the American Congress.

"We are bound by the agreed text of the 123 Agreement, which is negotiated by the negotiators of the two countries. And it is on the basis of Joint statement issued by President (George W) Bush and Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh [Images]) on 18th July 2005 and also by the Joint Statement of March 2006.

"It is not merely a question of the interpretation. It is the question of the agreed text on which we are depending," the External Affairs Minister said.

When asked whether he was rejecting Congressional intent in the resolution of approval by insisting that India was bound only the text of the 123 Agreement, he said "I am aware of the procedure followed by US Congress in the legislation. Every country has its own process of legislation as we have."

"We are bound by the agreement negotiated between the two sovereign countries and in this case, it is the 123 Agreement," he said, hoping that India will be soon completing procedures on the issue of liabilities."

"As far as the question on the International Convention to mitigate the liabilities of nuclear issues, we are in the process of completing the formalities in our country and I do hope it would be possible for us to participate in the International Convention in due course of time," Mukherjee said.

On fuel supply assurances, the minister maintained that the Text of the 123 Agreement and the Presidential Statement took care of the matter.

"The text of the agreement, if you go through, has entrusted responsibilities and obligations on both sides. In my observation I have pointed out that there is a balance between the obligation and the rights which we comply with. 

"The text of the 123 Agreement provides the fuel supply assurance to India and it has been reiterated by the President's signing Statement," Mukherjee said.

The minister was asked if he was satisfied with the Bush Statement on fuel assurances against the backdrop of what administration members had told Congress on the implications of any testing by India.

"Every country has its own way of internal mechanism of fulfilling the constitutional obligation and also the process of legislation. I would not like to make any comment on the process of legislation in US Congress and their observations on it. As I repeated, the Fuel supply assurance is being provided in the text of the 123 Agreement itself in Article 5.6," he said.

Mukherjee said that there were moments when doubts had come if the accord would materialise.

"Of course in these long three years there had been many moments of suspicion. Even on this issue the Government of India had to face a No Trust motion in our Lok Sabha. And we won that trust motion. Therefore there had been occasions. Many people doubted whether the agreement will see the light of day. But ultimately it has been possible to achieve this success," Mukherjee said.

The minister did not believe that there is an adverse linkage between the current financial crisis and the civil nuclear cooperation getting off the ground.

"This agreement is a culmination of three years of efforts. This agreement has been signed when all the necessary formalities have been completed including the ratification of US Congress as required per US Constitution and finally by the assent to this law by the US President," he said.

"In between certain developments have taken place. No doubt it would have its impact on the overall economic situation but this is not particularly related to the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation which is the subject of this agreement," he said.

Mukherjee also maintained that it is not possible to put a precise dollar value to what American firms would be able to compete for nuclear trade in India.

"We are entering into civil nuclear cooperation with the United States, France [Images] and Russia [Images] and these are essentially commercial contacts and surely the commercial aspect will be taken into account. But we are aware of an expanding relationship with the US," he said at one point.

"These are all commercial transactions which will take place when commercial contracts take place. In terms of value, in terms of other ingredients, it is too early (to say). These are all estimates; as and when they materialise, the actual figures will be available to us," Mukherjee said.

Calling the initialling of the 123 Agreement between the two countries a 'historic occasion', a beaming Mukherjee in his opening statement at the press conference said 'it marks the beginning of resumption of India's civil nuclear cooperation and trade with the United States and with the wider international community.'

"We intend to implement this Agreement in good faith and in accordance with the principles of international law and I am confident that the US will also do the same," he said.

Earlier, speaking at the signing ceremony at the State Department, Mukherjee insisted that the accord was 'legally binding' on both sides.

Noting that the Agreement reflects a 'careful balance of rights and obligations', he said: "Its (pact's) provisions are now legally-binding on both sides once the agreement enters into force."

His comment assumes significance since the US had earlier said that the contents of the 123 Agreement were a political commitment and not legally binding, triggering concerns in India over aspects like promises on nuclear fuel assurances.

The importance of the Agreement is that it is the first step to civil nuclear cooperation and trade between India and the United States, Mukherjee said.

"The Agreement reflects a careful balance of rights and obligations for both parties," he stressed again at the press conference.

Mukherjee said India attached 'great importance' to the agreement inked and to civil nuclear commerce with the international community which also paved the way for entry of US firms into the Indian nuclear market after three decades.

He also thanked Bush for his 'sustained support' for the deal and described Rice as a 'pillar of strength' through the process of realising the joint vision of Prime Minister Singh and the US President.

"We are happy that the Agreement was passed without any amendments by large bipartisan majorities in both Houses of the US Congress," Mukherjee said.

"This reflects strong support for stronger India-US relations and for the transformation that these relations have undergone in the last few years," he said, referring to the culmination of a crisis-ridden process initiated on July 18, 2005 in Washington during Dr Singh's visit for talks with Bush.

Mukherjee said the increased share of nuclear energy in India's energy mix will make a 'major positive contribution' to the country's sustainable development and to meeting its objective of eradicating poverty.

"We therefore, see this as a critical development for our economic growth and development. This Agreement is also important for global energy security as well as a contribution to global efforts to meet the challenge of climate change," he said.

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