Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard A Boucher on Thursday said that it was unlikely that India's relations with Iran would feature in the 123 bilateral agreement between India and the United States.
He indicated that the agreement would be well within the parameters of the July 18, 2005 and March 2, 2006 joint statements of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush.
"In the end, the substance of our cooperation is going to be set in the bilateral agreement that we negotiate and that's a fairly standard agreement. It has to cover certain areas. Relations with third countries are not usually part of that," Boucher said.
Asked if Iran would not be mentioned in the bilateral agreement at all, Boucher said in an interview with Voice of America (VOA-India), "I'll leave that to negotiators, but normally it would not have anything to do with third countries. It would be about the US and the partner country."
In reply to another question about reference to Iran in the enabling law passed by the US Congress, he said it was only a reporting requirement for US. "No one in India should be surprised that the US Congress and the US government cares about the India relationship with Iran, particularly when it comes to high technology exports in nuclear matter, military matters.
"So the fact that our Congress wants them to report, and wants us to report to them, it doesn't impinge on India because it doesn't involve India. And second of all, it's a report that we have to provide to our Congress on a issue that everybody knows we're interested in. So I don't see how that breaks any new ground for anybody in that matter," Boucher added.
Referring to critics' charge that the deal aims to eventually cap India's nuclear weapons programme, he said, "Look at the deal, it doesn't involve the military side. It's a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. That's all it affects. So whatever you want to say about it, you can say it does this or doesn't do that, but you can't say that it somehow implicates something because it's very clear on its surface.
"It's a civil nuclear cooperation deal. We think it's a good deal for India and a good deal for the United States, a good deal for really the whole non-proliferation system and for India's relations with the West," he added.
"Well, since it's the United States government and the Indian government who are going to negotiate it, since we're subject to the instructions of our president and they're subject to the instructions of their prime minister, I think both sides will work very hard to make it within the parameters that we've been given by our leaders," he said.
Washington, he said, had given India a text of the bilateral agreement and the "next step will be to get a text from the Indian side and then sit down and talk about it in detail. Already, we've had a lot of good discussions with the Indians and I think we all understand the issues and the concepts."
Asked about the timeframe, Boucher said, "Well, we're looking at as soon as possible. That's nicely said, but it's hard to define exactly. We have to negotiate the bilateral agreement. India has to negotiate its deal with the IAEA. Those things are not entirely in our hands, and then we have to deal with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
"We're looking at sort of next April, when the Nuclear Suppliers get together. Will we be ready by then? I frankly don't know but that's one moment and if not that moment then the next one. But some time in the next year I would hope we would be able to bring all these things together."