Calling the enactment of the India-specific waiver of US legislation by the US Congress "of historic significance," the government on Friday cautiously welcomed the bill adopted for a final vote by both Houses of Congress.
"The enactment of the waiver has wider implications for India's access to international cooperation in civilian nuclear energy and is, therefore, of historic significance," the spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Navtej Sarna said in a statement.
That the Indian government was not jubilant was apparent from the statement that spoke of "extraneous and prescriptive provisions" included in the final Bill.
"Government also notes that this draft legislation contains certain extraneous and prescriptive provisions," Sarna said. "As Prime Minister stated in Parliament, no legislation enacted in a foreign country can take away from us the sovereign right to conduct foreign policy determined solely by our national interests."
The reference was to clauses in the Bill outlining the need for the US President to report on the status of India’s future conduct of relations with Iran, and on its adherence to cutting back production of fissile materials.
While officials working on the negotiations for over 18 months appeared relieved, they stressed that the US legislation was not binding on the Indian government. What would be binding is the bilateral 123 Agreement that is now being worked out, predicated on the template of the US legislation and the statements of July 18, 2005 and March 2, 2006, by the US President and the Indian Prime Minister.
Reiterating that the legislation that would be passed is an amendment to the law of the US, the MEA spokesman said, "our obligations and commitments will be those that we undertake in the bilateral 123 agreement".
The government’s cautious response was also prompted by the ongoing session of Parliament. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will make a detailed statement to Parliament early next week, informing the legislature of what the US legislation means for India.
Observing that the Bill (Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006) awaits favourable votes by the House and the Senate, Sarna said, "The US Administration has assured us that once passed, this legislation would enable it to fulfill all its commitments and obligations under the July 18 Joint Statement (of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush) and the Separation Plan."
"We appreciate the personal effort and commitment demonstrated by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in taking this initiative forward," said Sarna, placing on record the government’s appreciation of their personal initiative to ensure most of India's concerns were met and the legislation was passed this year.