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McCain backs N-deal but knows less about it

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | September 18, 2008 09:19 IST

While Republican Presidential nominee Senator John McCain [Images] has been unequivocal and unambiguous of his support for the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, apparently his campaign is unaware over the controversy surrounding President Bush's memorandum to the US Congress where he has said the 123 Agreement's assurances of nuclear fuel guarantees for India are 'political commitments', and hence 'not legally binding'.

Asked what McCain's position on this was and if he would consider the commitments in the 123 Agreement as legally binding as India has contended, Richard Fontaine, Foreign Policy Adviser to McCain, said, "I don't know that we have established a position on how binding or not legally binding these guarantees are."

"But I could answer the question in slightly a more broader sense in that Senator McCain has supported the 123 Agreement from the beginning and he sees this (the deal) as a way of further involving India in the non-proliferation effort," he said.

In a teleconference with the Indian media, Fontaine said, McCain has always been involved in this effort to bring India into the non-proliferation mainstream 'but now he is going to be further involved in that effort now that it has been confirmed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group', which provided India with an exemption to after more than three decades of isolation to engage in global civilian nuclear trade.

"That's one of the reasons why Senator McCain opposed all of the amendments (against the deal) on the Senate floor -- the so-called poison pill amendments that would have had the effect of killing the agreement and has now called for its swift approval in the US Congress."

Earlier, in his opening remarks, Fontaine said, the top priority of McCain if he is elected President, would be to consummate the deal if it is not already completed at the end of this year's Congressional calendar.

"We hope, and Senator McCain, has called on the Democratic leaders in Congress to get this deal done as soon as possible, preferably while the Senate remains in session this month. (But) For some reason that this is still incomplete when the current President leaves office, then that would be a top priority for Senator McCain when he takes office."

During the question and answer segment, when Fontaine was asked to explain McCain's consistent support of massive military aid packages to Pakistan, which a recent US audit had shown was not going to combat terrorism but being diverted to build-up for a war against India, he said, "Where we come down on this is we think the United States and India both have a compelling interest in the success of civilian rule in Pakistan and that includes helping Pakistan control and govern its entire territory, including the tribal areas."

"So, for that reason, Senator McCain has supported a sizable increase in civilian assistance to Pakistan, particularly to promote governance and development in the FATA and he also supports focusing the military assistance and training and equipping that is going to the Pakistan military and security forces on the conduct of counter-insurgency operations."

Fontaine said this is imperative 'because we need to get on the same page with the Government of Pakistan that the shared enemy we have is those in the country that would like to destabilize Afghanistan, Pakistan itself and other areas. And, so, that's where he would like to focus.'

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