President George Bush has sought to allay India's concerns over certain "extraneous and prescriptive" provisions in the US law on the civil nuclear deal by declaring that he was not bound to follow them at all.
"My approval of the Act does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy as US foreign policy," he said in a presidential statement issued on Monday shortly after he signed the 'Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006' into law at a White House ceremony.
Specifically mentioning three sections - 103, 104 and 109 - relating to India's Iran policy, NSG transfer guidelines and a joint scientific cooperative nuclear non-proliferation programme that have raised hackles in New Delhi, Bush said the executive would treat them at best as "advisory".
US presidents have often used such signing statements to interpret a law the way they choose without taking the extreme step of rejecting a bill outright with a veto. Usually these are quietly listed in the Federal Register recording all executive actions without a public announcement.
The presidential statement only amplified what Bush had stated at the ceremony itself: "As part of the agreement, the United States and India have committed to take a series of steps to make nuclear cooperation a reality, and we're going to fulfil these commitments."
"The bill I sign today is one of the most important steps, and it's going to help clear the way for us to move forward with this process," he said in a reference to upcoming negotiations for the so-called 123 agreement under the relevant provision of US Atomic Energy Act 1954.
"Section 103 of the Act purports to establish US policy with respect to various international affairs matters. Given the Constitution's commitment to the presidency of the authority to conduct the Nation's foreign affairs, the executive branch shall construe such policy statements as advisory," Bush declared in the signing statement.
Section 103 among other things required India and US to become parties to a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and sought to secure India's full and active participation in US efforts to dissuade, isolate, and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran for its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons capability.
"Also, if section 104(d)(2) of the Act were construed to prohibit the executive branch from transferring or approving the transfer of an item to India contrary to Nuclear Suppliers Group transfer guidelines that may be in effect at the time of such future transfer, a serious question would exist as to whether the provision unconstitutionally delegated legislative power to an international body," Bush noted.
"In order to avoid this constitutional question, the executive branch shall construe section 104(d)(2) as advisory. The executive branch will give sections 103 and 104(d)(2) the due weight that comity between the legislative and executive branches should require, to the extent consistent with US foreign policy," he said.
Section 109 authorises the secretary of energy to establish a cooperative nuclear non-proliferation programme to pursue jointly with scientists from the United States and India a programme to further common nuclear non-proliferation goals, including scientific research and development efforts, with an emphasis on nuclear safeguards.
Section 109 is not intended to create an obligation for India to meet, but rather to open an avenue for increased cooperation on topics of concern to both countries, the Senate-House conference had noted. With his statement on Monday Bush made this loud and clear.
The president also notified his reservations over certain provisions of an unrelated 'United States Additional Protocol Implementation' between Washington and the IAEA included as Title II in the India bill.
Specifically, he mentioned Section 261 putting current or former Defence and Energy department facilities of direct national security significance beyond IAEA inspection and reporting requirements under Sections 271 to 275.
"The executive branch shall construe provisions of the Act that mandate, regulate, or prohibit submission of information to the Congress, an international organisation, or the public, such as sections 104, 109, 261, 271, 272, 273, 274, and 275, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to protect and control information that could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties," Bush declared.
Earlier, before signing the Congress approved India bill into law at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Bush said it will strengthen the partnership between the world's two largest democracies.
"The relationship between the United States and India has never been more vital - and this bill will help us meet the energy and security challenges of the 21st century," he said, thanking Congress for delivering "this historic bill to my desk."
Witness to the ceremony on the dais were Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, India's Charge D'Affaires Raminder Jassal besides Republican Congressmen Thaddeus McCotter, Richard Lugar, Bill Frist and George Allen and Democrats Gary Ackerman, Joseph Crowley and Frank Pallone reflecting strong bipartisan support for the measure.
Noting Indian American community's vital role in explaining this strategic bill to the American public, Bush said, "I appreciate so very much your carrying the message not only here at home, but in India. And I want you to know that your voice was very effective, and I welcome it."
The bill, he said, would help US achieve four key goals:
First, strengthen cooperation between India and United States on one of the most important challenges in the 21st century - energy - as India is now the world's fifth largest consumer of energy.
Second, promote economic growth by opening a new important market for American businesses by paving the way for investment in India's civilian nuclear industry for the first time ever.
Third, make it possible for India to reduce emissions - and improve its environment by the use of nuclear power.
Finally, keep America safe by paving the way for India to join the global effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.