The US on Wednesday reminded India of a "very tight deadline" for putting together "missing pieces" to conclude the nuclear deal and clarified that the 123 agreement, and not the Hyde Act, will determine civil nuclear commerce between the two countries.
"As far as the Hyde Act is concerned, it is a domestic legislation that determines what we do in our government. It's an enabling legislation whose main purpose is to allow us to conclude the nuclear agreement with India," US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia Richard Boucher told reporters.
"As for the 123 agreement, that's what binds India and the US in the framework. I frankly see no contradiction between the two," Boucher said in a bid to allay anxieties in India about the impact of the Hyde Act on the nuclear deal.
Boucher, who met Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and senior officials of the external affairs ministry Monday, struck an optimistic note about concluding the deal but reminded India that there was "a very tight deadline" for doing so due to the pressures on the US Congress in an election year in that country.
"I am optimistic that it's a good deal for India, the US and non-proliferation," Boucher replied when asked about his impression of whether India was ready to push the deal through political opposition.
"Realistically, the authoritarian voice in this regard is that of Senator Joesph Biden (chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). The idea is to get the deal through the US Congress by July," he said. He was alluding to remarks made by Biden and former Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry during a recent visit to India when they stressed that India must conclude the next steps, IAEA pact and a change in guidelines by the NSG - by May so that it can be ratified by the US Congress before July-end.
"Time is short. There are time pressures. There are several pieces of deal puzzle," Boucher said while referring to India's ongoing efforts to conclude a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency that is in its final stages.
He, however, evaded a question on whether India shared its draft pact with the IAEA, which is said to be nearly complete, with Washington and whether he expected External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to bring the draft pact during his visit to the US March 13-15.
"We need to allow a month or two in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which operates by consensus. The NSG countries are completely committed to the non-proliferation cause," he said when asked how much time it will take for the NSG to decide on allowing global resumption of civil nuclear commerce with India.
"There are going to be a lot of questions in the NSG. But we believe India should be brought in the non-proliferation mainstream," he said. "It's a good deal for non-proliferation," he said with an eye on sceptics in the NSG like the Scandinavian countries that are hawkish on nuclear issues.
Saying that he understands political realities in India, Boucher stressed: "Time is very tight. We have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and get it done,"
"I don't want to miss the opportunity. We should not miss the opportunity," he said, while adding that the burgeoning India-US ties will not be affected by the failure of the deal.