India, US seal ‘unprecedented’ n-deal, transform ties (Roundup)

October 11th, 2008 - 5:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington/New Delhi, Oct 11 (IANS) Silencing sceptics in both countries, India and the US have signed the 123 civil nuclear pact after over three years of intense diplomatic and political debate - a historic move that will restore nuclear trade and transform ties between the once estranged democracies. The landmark deal signed Friday (Saturday morning India time) will allow India access to nuclear reactors, fuel and technologies from the US after a gap of 34 years when Washington terminated nuclear cooperation as New Delhi conducted a nuclear test in the Pokhran desert of Rajasthan in 1974.

The deal also marks a paradigm shift in relations between India and the US, which were marked by mutual distrust and suspicion till a turnaround warming of ties began around 2000.

India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice inked the bilateral 123 agreement at an elegant ceremony in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department at 4.16 p.m. Friday (1.46 a.m. Saturday India time).

“This is truly an historic occasion,” said Rice before signing what she called an “unprecedented” agreement that makes a one-time exception for India, which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to resume nuclear trade with Washington while retaining its strategic programme.

Mukherjee, who “flew in all the way from New Delhi to sign the deal” as she put it, called it “an important day for India-US relations”.

“Many thought this day would never come. But doubts have been silenced now,” said the top US diplomat recalling the various twists and turns the deal had taken before coming to fruition over 1,000 days after Bush and Manmohan Singh reached a historic understanding in Washington on July 18, 2005.

“And it demonstrates the vast potential partnership between India and the US, potential that, frankly, has gone unfulfilled for too many decades of mistrust and now potential that can be fully realised,” said Rice.

Describing the agreement as “one more visible sign of the transformed relationship and partnership that our two countries are building together”, Mukherjee said in inking the accord “we implement the vision and understandings reached” by their leaders in July 2005 and March 2006.

The agreement “reflects a careful balance of rights and obligations”, he stressed.

Underlining the fact the bilateral agreement “has been passed by the US Congress without any amendments”, Mukherjee said: “Its provisions are now legally binding on both sides once the agreement enters into force”.

At a press conference later he made the legally binding nature of the accord more explicit: “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.”

A couple of riders in the Congressional approval besides Bush’s controversial message to the legislature that the nuclear fuel supply assurances in the 123 agreement were “political commitments” and not “legally binding” had raised concerns in India.

Mukherjee came to ink the bilateral agreement just two days after Bush addressed these concerns in a presidential statement asserting that the US enabling law does not change US commitments on nuclear fuel assurances and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel mentioned in the draft 123 agreement.

Calling it “a diplomatic triumph for both our nations”, Rice stressed that the agreement unlocks “a new and far broader world of potential for our strategic partnership in the 21st century, not just on nuclear cooperation but on every area of national endeavour.”

“Now, I believe, there is nothing that we cannot do together,” she said while lauding “the courage and democratic statesmanship both in New Delhi and in Washington”, while stressing that Manmohan Singh “literally risked his political future for this agreement”.

The sealing of the 123 pact was hailed by India’s strategic and policy-making community.

A group of retired Indian ambassadors, including three foreign secretaries, hailed it as an “extraordinary achievement” of India’s foreign policy and stressed that the nuclear deal has no adverse impact on the country’s strategic programme. The newly-formed Ambassadors’ Forum in New Delhi also appealed to all to “close ranks and re-establish the traditional consensus on India’s independent foreign policy”.

With the deal done, all eyes in India are on how the government will tout the deal in the next elections, which are likely to be held next year.

Predictably, known opponents of the deal - the chief opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist parties, replayed their objections to the deal.

A bitter critic of the deal, Communist Party of India-Marxist chief Prakash Karat Saturday described the signing of the 123 pact Oct 10 as “a black day in Indian history” and a surrender to the US interests. The CPI-M general secretary also accused the Manmohan Singh government “of surrendering the country’s sovereignty” and vowed to continue the struggle against the deal that he stressed was “a big gain for the US and big loss for India”.

The BJP repeated that it will re-negotiate the deal if it comes to power as it believes the deal has compromised India’s strategic deterrence, even though it supports strategic partnership with the US and closer ties with Washington.

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