India signaled on Monday that it would await ratification of a bilateral agreement with the US before signing agreements with countries like France and Russia for the purchase of nuclear reactors and fuel.
Acknowledging the critical role played by the US in getting the NSG to lift sanctions on New Delhi, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: “As far as the procedure is concerned, now we shall have to wait for the ratification of the 123 agreement between India and the US.”
All this movement in the Indo-US civil nuclear initiative has been triggered by the NSG decision on September 6 to allow its 45 members to engage in civil nuclear trade with India.
“The approval by the board of governors of the IAEA for the India-specific safeguards agreement and the NSG waiver are the passports to enter into international nuclear trade,” Mukherjee said.
“Through the bilateral agreements with the supplying countries, we will actually enter into the trade. After the ratification of the US Congress this process will begin.”
Mukherjee’s remarks come after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed the hope that American companies would not be disadvantaged by the fact that India had no constraints in pushing ahead with agreements to purchase nuclear material from France and Russia.
On Saturday, Rice said en route to Algiers, “…we have talked to the Indian government about this, and I think they recognize and appreciate American leadership on this issue. And because of that, I think we will have ways to talk to them about not disadvantaging American companies.”
Given that the US pulled out all stops to get India the waiver, New Delhi would obviously not like to queer the pitch by putting American nuclear companies at a disadvantage.
Details of the hectic diplomacy that preceded the NSG consensus on Saturday are still filtering in. On Monday, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark revealing that she had spoken to US President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Senior officials also pointed out that it was up to other NSG countries to initiate the process of beginning cooperation with India. “There is no condition that cooperation can begin only after the ratification by Congress.”
At the NSG, for instance, Canada wanted a condition that cooperation should begin only six months after the waiver. The Russians and the French ensured that such a condition did not form part of the exemption.