US reiterates nuclear fuel assurances not legally binding (Lead)

September 19th, 2008 - 11:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 19 (IANS) A top US official has reiterated Washington’s controversial assertion that nuclear fuel supply assurances were “political commitments” and not “legally binding” saying American firms could not be legally compelled to sell a particular product.”The commitments that the President (George W. Bush) made that are recorded in the (implementing) 123 agreement are firm, solemn commitments…,” Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns told a key Senate panel Thursday.

“But Bush had also made it clear in his Sep 10 message to Congress asking it to approve the India-US civil nuclear deal,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when asked to explain the distinction between the two formulations.

Amid the continuing furore in India over Bush’ assertion, Burns said: “They’re political commitments… in the sense that we are determined to help India to try to ensure a reasonable steady supply of fuel and should disruptions arise, for example, trade disputes, a commercial firm fails to meet its requirements.

“But we are determined to meet those commitments to the fullest extent consistent with US law and so the - any president would be bound by US law just as you’ve described, and I believe that the Indians understand the clarity of our position,” Burns said when asked if the commitments are binding on Bush’s successor too.

Acting chairman Chris Dodd, presiding in the absence of Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, asked if Bush would feel obligated to help India find alternative fuel sources in the event the US decides to terminate the deal in the event of a nuclear test by India.

“What I would say, Senator, is that we would have to evaluate the circumstances, of course, that exist at that time,” said Burns.

But “if the president determined that nuclear cooperation with India should be terminated and, for instance, if we in the United States government then moved to terminate the 123 agreement, it would not be consistent with that spirit for us to encourage other countries to supply nuclear fuel if the United States did not,” he said.

Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security John Rood also maintained that the 123 agreement provides a legal framework. “The agreement, as a legal matter, is, as I say, only an enabling piece of legislation,” he said.

“It’s not a government activity to produce nuclear fuel, it’s a commercial activity in the US, and we in the US government would - could not legally compel American firms to provide fuel to India if they did not wish to do so,” he said.

The agreement does not compel US firms “to sell a given product to India”, Rood said in reply to queries on legal implications of the deal.

“With regard to their understanding that our actions are going to be guided by US law and will be consistent with US law, I believe the Indians do understand that,” he said.

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