The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government came “close to a deal” on bilateral nuclear cooperation with the Bill Clinton administration, but could not finalise it because the key “benchmarks” set by the Americans were not met.
According to Strobe Talbott, former US deputy secretary of state and now president of the Brookings Institution, though the “benchmarks” have been largely unmet, the UPA government has gone ahead and “managed to extract a great deal” from the United States.
Talbott, who still has reservations about the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, not because of India’s record, but because of what the deal does to the international non-proliferation regime, said the BJP’s objections to the deal were “just politics”. Talbott was speaking at the Observer’s Research Foundation.
The Clinton administration had originally sought the civil nuclear deal, Talbott said, setting benchmarks related to five key areas of concern; export controls, fissile materials production, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, strategic restraint and improved India-Pakistan relations. Of these, Talbott said, only India-Pakistan ties seem to be moving forward.
Asked what went wrong with the deal with the BJP, he told the HT, “The BJP government was not able or willing to meet the quite modest and reasonable suggestions we put forth. There was a lot of political drama in India and the BJP government was not strong enough to sign the CTBT,” he said.
His administration’s benchmarks included India signing the CTBT and accepting a proposal for a cap on fissile material production, which India was unwilling to provide.
The BJP, on its part, admitted that though it carried out the groundwork for the Indo-US nuclear deal when it was in power, it would not have conceded as much as the UPA had done.
Senior BJP leader and former Union minister Yashwant denied Talbott’s “charge” that BJP’s present position on the pact was dictated by politics. “Talbott is half right and half wrong,” he said.