India will be ’solely guided’ by 123, hopes of clean NSG waiver (Intro Roundup)

September 4th, 2008 - 12:23 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Washington, Sep 3 (IANS) The Bush administration has told the US Congress it would immediately terminate nuclear trade with New Delhi if it conducted a nuclear test but India maintained it will be “solely guided” by the bilateral 123 pact with the US and hoped for a clean waiver from the NSG. A day before the two-day meeting of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group begins in Vienna to consider an India-specific exemption, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and held a high-level meeting with senior Congress leaders to discuss the nuclear deal.

The meeting was held Wednesday night after leading opposition parties seized upon a State Department letter, assuring the US Congress that the US will terminate nuclear trade with India if New Delhi conducted a nuclear test, and accused the government of misleading the country on the issue of testing.

“The government’s attention has been drawn to this news report. We do not as a matter of policy comment on internal correspondence of different branches of another government,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said in a statement in New Delhi.

“We will be guided solely by the terms of the bilateral agreement between India and the US, the India-specific safeguards agreement and the clean waiver from the NSG which we hope will be forthcoming in the meeting of the NSG Sep 4-5,” Sarna said.

“Insofar as the issue of testing is concerned, our position is well-known. We have a unilateral moratorium on testing. This is reflected in the India-US joint statement of July 18, 2005,” he stressed.

Sarna was commenting on the state department’s letter, kept secret for nine months, which was published in the Washington Post Wednesday.

US ambassador to India David Mulford clarified in New Delhi there was nothing secretive about the Jan 16, 2008 letter. It “contains no new conditions and there is no data in this letter which has not already been shared in an open and transparent way with members of the Congress and with the government of India,” Mulford said.

The political leadership in India called Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar, a key interlocutor on the nuclear deal, to New Delhi for consultations on how to counter the likely negative repercussions of such disclosures in the NSG.

The Congress, which leads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), also assured that India is bound only by the 123 bilateral agreement it has finalized with the US.

“India is only bound by the 123 bilateral agreement which is an international agreement,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said.

“There is nothing to get worried about. We don’t need to re-look and re-examine the agreement,” he added.

The 26-page letter, now in the public domain, has created a fresh row in India with opposition parties accusing the government of misleading the country on the India-US nuclear deal.

The assurance to halt nuclear trade and stop selling sensitive nuclear technologies to India in case of a nuclear test is held out in the correspondence released Wednesday by Howard L. Berman, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The dramatic disclosure comes just a day ahead of the second special meeting of the 45-nation NSG in Vienna. The conclave beginning Thursday will consider a revised draft to grant India a clean waiver from the existing rules of global nuclear commerce.

The correspondence concerned 45 highly technical questions that members of Congress posed about the landmark nuclear deal. It sought to address some lawmakers’ concerns whether the implementing 123 agreement papered over critical conditions imposed by the enabling US law, the contentious Hyde Act.

The questions were addressed in the letter sent Jan 16 to Berman’s predecessor, the late Tom Lantos, who had played a crucial role in the passage of the Hyde Act in December 2006.

The State Department’s letter to Lantos says the US would help India deal only with “disruptions in supply to India that may result through no fault of its own”, such as a trade war or market disruptions.

The answers were considered so sensitive, particularly because debate over the agreement in India could have toppled the coalition government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that the State Department requested they remain secret even though they were not classified.

The report may embolden sceptics in the NSG to demand the inclusion of a reference to testing in the India-specific waiver.

New Delhi has made it clear that it will not accept a waiver from the NSG if it contained prescriptive provisions like testing, periodic review of India’s compliance with non-proliferation norms and curbs on export of reprocessing and enrichment technologies.

Manmohan Singh has assured parliament many a time that India has not sacrificed its strategic deterrence and right to test a nuclear device in the 123 bilateral nuclear agreement.

Leading opposition parties in India and critics of the nuclear deal attacked the government over “misrepresentation” of the nuclear deal.

“With this revelation it has become clear that the Congress party has misled the nation since the beginning. We will go to public about this and would renegotiate the deal if we come in power,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesman Prakash Javadekar told IANS.

The communist parties, which withdrew their support to the UPA government over the nuclear deal, said the “secret letter” was clear evidence of their “worst suspicions coming true”.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said in a statement: “The Manmohan Singh government stands thoroughly exposed before the country for compromising India’s vital security interests.

“Proceeding with this deal will mortgage India’s sovereignty and make India’s civilian nuclear programme vulnerable to US blackmail for the next forty years.”

The CPI-M demanded that the government “suspend all further moves to operationalise the anti-national nuclear deal”.

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