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Home > India > News > Columnists > B S Raghavan

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Reiterations, not revelations

September 05, 2008

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Pashyannapi ca na pashyati moodo (Seeing you do not see, hey fool!) -- Adi Shankara in Bhaja Govindam

They seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand -- Mathew 13:13, The Bible

Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not -- Jeremiah 5:21, The Bible

There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know -- John Heywood (1546 AD)

It almost seems that all these great minds were able to peer millennia into the future and correctly capture the leading personalities of the Congress party in the United Progressive Alliance government. The descriptions in all these quotations exactly to the letter T fit the spokespersons of the UPA government who are making a public spectacle of themselves by tying themselves into knots fobbing off on 'We, The People' whom they disdainfully regard as morons, preposterous statements to explain away the report published in The Washington Post on the 26-page document sent to Rep Tom Lantos, then chairman of the US House Foreign Relations Committee on January 16.

'I told you so!' is not a pleasant phrase at the best of times for a columnist to use, and it becomes particularly unpleasant in bad times like these when the government is finding itself out of its depth coping with natural and man-made calamities overwhelming it on all sides. Still, being only human, I cannot resist the temptation of pointing out that nothing that is contained in the letter of the Bush Administration to Chairman Lantos would or should have been a revelation to anyone familiar with the series of 20 articles I have written right from July 20, 2005 commenting on the first Joint Statement between US President George W Bush [Images], and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] issued on July 18 that year.

Column after column since then had been pointing out that the so-called 'full civilian nuclear cooperation agreement' is anything but full, that the US had without any qualms incorporated in the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement a number of 'ifs' and buts' and that India was entering into a messy and unnecessary arrangement in which all the trumps were on the US's side. All this was just for raising the nuclear energy component of India's power portfolio from less than three percent as of now to about eight or nine percent at best in the next 25 years.

In that sense, the State Department reply to Chairman Lantos covered by The Washington Post is not a revelation, but only a repetition of what was plain as noon-day sun for anyone with a modicum of political savvy. In that sense, again, US Ambassador to India David Mulford is spot on when he says that all that the letter says had already been conveyed in an open and transparent manner to New Delhi [Images] and was already known to those whose business it was to keep track of developments on such a sensitive issue as this.

For instance, as early as on July 27, 2007, US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns was on record declaring that '..we had to make sure that everything in this US-India civil nuclear agreement, the 123 Agreement, was completely consistent with the Hyde Act and well within the bounds of the Hyde Act itself.' Confirming this, on September 19, 2007, Assistant Secretary Boucher made it clear in his statement to the US Foreign Relations Committee that the 123 Agreement was in full conformity with all the legal requirements of the Hyde Act.

Appearing before the same Committee on February 13 this year, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images] gave a categorical assurance that any decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group 'will have to be completely consistent with the obligations of the Hyde Act.'

Based on this, Chairman Howard L Berman who had succeeded Lantos wrote to her on August 5: 'As such, I expect you to instruct the US representative to the NSG not to seek or support any exemption for India that does not faithfully reflect all of the Hyde Act conditions.'

These part, from time to time, high officials of the US Administration have been forcefully giving their understanding of the legal position. One of the most unambiguously worded stipulations of the Hyde Act is Section 106 which lays down that the waiver enabling nuclear trade and supplies 'shall cease to be effective if the President determines that India has detonated a nuclear explosive device�'

The UPA government spokespersons have advanced the specious argument that under Article 14 of the 123 Agreement, a year's notice is necessary for consultations before any termination and cessation of cooperation can take effect. In this they are being disingenuous.  The same Article says: 'The party seeking termination has the right to cease further cooperation�if it determines that a mutually acceptable resolution of outstanding issues has not been possible or cannot be achieved through consultations' (emphasis supplied throughout).

From the US side it has been repeatedly made known that any future test will automatically result in termination and demand for return of all the supplies entailing tens of thousands of crores of rupees already invested going waste.

Similarly, as regards sensitive nuclear technology, here are a few extracts from the letter of US Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Jeffrey T Bergner, dated January 16, 2008, addressed to Chairman Lantos (which has been available on the web):

'�While the proposed US-India agreement provides for transfer of the items in question� it does not compel any such transfers and as a matter of policy the United States does not transfer dual use items for use in sensitive nuclear facilities� The Administration does not plan... to transfer to India sensitive nuclear facilities or critical components of such facilities�'

On fuel supplies also, the 123 Agreement contains only a vague provision to the effect that the US 'will' incorporate assurances in the US-India Agreement (what other agreement does the US have in mind than the 123 Agreement?) which would be submitted to US Congress and 'support an Indian effort to develop a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply over the lifetime of India's reactors. If, despite these arrangements, a disruption of fuel supplies to India occurs, the US and India would jointly convene a group of friendly supplier countries � to pursue such measures as would restore fuel supply to India.'

The only new element in the US Administration's letter to Chairman Lantos is its caveat in regard to fuel supplies. Its very narrow and conditional interpretation of this clause rules out any real prospect of regular and continued supplies.

There are two other intriguing aspects of this episode concerning the release of this letter to the media. The first is that contrary to the US practice of putting in the public domain the exchanges of communications between the Administration and the various congressional committees on matters of public interest, the Bush Administration reportedly requested the chairman to keep the letter (written nine months ago) under wraps lest it should 'topple the Manmohan Singh government'. 

That means the US was conscious that the letter contained political dynamite even at that stage when the UPA government was still having parleys with the Left and the trust vote was nowhere on the horizon. It was political dynamite not because it was something that had not been known before, but because it brought together at one place what the US considered to be the nature and scope of the deal. Apparently, the US was prepared to go to any lengths to keep the UPA government in power!

The second aspect which has a bit of mischief-making in it is the timing just a day before what is assumed to be the make-or-break meeting of the NSG. However, no one can quarrel with the right of dissenters to adopt all the weapons in their armoury to influence the NSG. To what extent they have succeeded will be known very soon.

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