External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee looked relaxed during the course of an exclusive interview with HT’s Amit Baruah after Tuesday’s confidence vote. He was hopeful, but cautious about India completing the rest of the steps in implementing the civil nuclear deal with the United States. Excerpts:
Will the Nuclear Suppliers Group prove a tougher nut to crack than getting the confidence vote through Parliament as far as the civil nuclear deal is concerned?
Parliament was difficult in the sense because their was a combination of all (issues)…but it became easier with the withdrawal of the Left Parties. Within an hour, the Samajwadi Party extended its support to the UPA government. But then we did simple arithmetic and found out that the government has a majority. But efforts were made; we were keeping our fingers crossed that everything goes through.
But, NSG is definitely more difficult in the sense that consensus is needed and 45 countries are there. Some of them have very strong belief in non-proliferation; not any other reason.
With every (NSG) country, India has excellent relations, but some have strong ideological positions — their total opposition to any expansion of nuclear weapons’ states – whether de facto or de jure.
We will have to overcome this. It will take time, but with the cooperation of our friends, we should be able to overcome this hurdle.
When do you think the NSG might convene a meeting?
It’s difficult for me to provide an exact time schedule, but if on August 1 we receive the approval of the IAEA board of governors, then after the declaration of documentation and other things, some of our friendly countries will have to move the NSG for amending the guidelines so that India can participate in international trade in nuclear materials. I think it may take one or two meetings.
But you are hopeful?
We are trying to do our best. In all 45 (NSG) countries, our missions are active…there are regular channels of foreign office consultations. Some bilateral visits are also taking place.
Will you be able to convince NSG countries that the 123 agreement is only for civil nuclear cooperation?
That is our effort. What are we saying? Let us be plain and simple. As far as your cooperation is concerned, it is totally for peaceful purposes. We will not misuse it – our (non-proliferation) record is impeccable.
Though we are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, all the vital obligations of the NPT have been voluntarily accepted and implemented by us since 1974.
Through our indigenous efforts, we have developed (our nuclear capability). And, we did not go through the AQ Khan route. At the same time, we enforced strict controls…there is no nuclear trade with any country.
But, as far as our strategic programmes are concerned, it will depend on our threat perception. And, this is our threat perception, not that of others. A sovereign country formulates its own perceptions and, accordingly, it formulates policies, programmes and implements these.
There (in the strategic programme), we will neither seek any assistance, nor do we expect any assistance from anyone.
We want a clean exemption from the NSG. Suppose, the Group says that India’s nuclear trade would be ended should it test another nuclear device?
All this are hypothetical questions. We want a clean exemption because (in) certain areas, for instance in the 123 and the India-specific safeguards’ agreement texts, we made it quite clear that there is no reference to the Hyde Act or any other prescriptive provisions…
We have clear perceptions of what we mean by ‘clean’. Unless we get the other sides’ story, how can I react to it?
Do India and the United States need to formally sign the 123 agreement?
Formal signature will be required. The (123) text has been frozen; the US will have to finalise the Presidential declaration. Then, in their Congressional programme, it will be an up or down resolution.
So, there will not be much debate – there will be either rejection or acceptance. But it will depend on them. After this, the question of formal signatures will arise.
Under the 123 agreement, India will have to negotiate an additional protocol with the IAEA. Will that process start soon?
How can it start soon? We will have to go stage by stage.
Will India now be able to move forward on issues like the defence logistics supply agreement that had been put on hold on account of opposition by the Left parties?
Every issue is independent. One need not be linked with the other; nothing was held back because of political compulsions. Sure, we tried our best to carry conviction with our colleagues in the Left parties because they were our valued supporters.
But, at the same time, there are some issues the government of the day decides. These issues have been discussed on a number of occasions. We have our own perceptions. And, that is an area where there is divergence of views. Unless divergence is brought to convergence, these issues cannot be sorted out immediately.