AFTER SIGNING the document that turned the US-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006 into law on Monday, US President George W. Bush issued a statement saying, "The Act will strengthen the strategic relationship between the US and India, and deliver valuable benefits to both nations."
About the Act’s controversial Section 103, he said, significantly, "The executive branch shall construe such policy statements as advisory."
That section says the US should try to work with other Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) members to deny India enrichment, reprocessing and heavy-water technology. It has several provisions which New Delhi is not particularly happy about.
Its sub-section a(6) called on the US to prevent the transfer of nuclear equipment and materials from other NSG members, if India fell afoul of the US law. This was seen as putting a serious question mark on the US ability to fulfil the fuel-supply assurances under the July 18, 2005 agreement.
But Bush's statement sought to allay such fears. "My approval of the act does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy [of Section 103] as US foreign policy," he said.
The statement also added, "Section 104(d) (2) prohibiting the US from exporting an item contrary to the NSG guidelines would not bind the Administration, and (would) also be treated as an advisory." This was because there was "a serious question" as to whether the provision "unconstitutionally gave legislative power to an international body". Signed statements may not have the force of law, but they do make clear the way the administration plans to implement a particular act.
Monday's statement is important because it will be Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who will issue instructions to the officials who will negotiate the '123 Agreement' with India to operationalise the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Another section in the Act calls on India to align its export-control laws to those of the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement -- for chemical and conventional weapons export, respectively -- bodies of which India is not a member. Subsection (b)4 of this clause seeks to secure India's participation in efforts to contain Iran.