Manmohan Singh told his team to "call off" the Indo-US civil nuclear deal a night before its scheduled announcement by President George Bush after the Americans came up with a proposal to let India have just two of its nuclear reactors out of international safeguards, a top aide of the former Prime Minister has said.
Former national security advisor MK Narayanan made the disclosure after former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Washington audience that then Prime Minister Singh called off the deal a night before its scheduled announcement on June 18, 2005 because India’s opposition parties were up in arms against it.
Speaking at a day-long conference marking the 10th anniversary of the landmark civil nuclear deal, Narayanan said he wanted to provide the real reason behind Singh’s decision.
“I just wanted to set the record straight. I know that a view has been widely propounded that on the night of June 17-18, Manmohan Singh had called off the deal. I think there were very valid reasons," he said in his clarification.
“There was an understanding which had been reached (by the Prime Minister's Office) with the (US) President's office that the number of Indian reactors that would be kept out of the international safeguards would be number such and such," he said at the event organised on Monday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Confederation of Indian Industry.
“The (US) State Department had a lot of people who wanted to teach India a lesson. By the time the visit was due, the number that was agreed on – six to eight (reactors) – was reduced to two. That was the figure that was totally unacceptable from the point of view of the ministry of external affairs," Narayanan said, describing the sequence of events on the night of June 17-18 when Singh was visiting the US.
“And therefore the position that night was the Prime Minister’s words, which I might use, at 12.05 (am), if the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Security Advisor are not willing to go along with the figure, let's call it off and then we will," he said.
Singh’s decision sent a strong message to the Americans, and as the news reached the White House, Bush sent Rice to Willard Hotel where Singh was staying.
According to Narayanan, the Prime Minister did not want to meet Rice at this point of time as he did not want to share the bad news directly with her. Rice met then external affairs minister Natwar Singh, who then took Rice to Singh’s suite.
Once the Americans agreed on a figure acceptable to the Indians, Singh gave his go ahead for the deal, he said.
“I want history to record that this deal would not have gone through from the Indian side without Manmohan Singh being 150% for the deal," Narayanan said.
Participating in a panel discussion with three other former national security advisors from the two countries – Stephen Headley, Tom Donilon and Shivshankar Menon – Narayanan said the "suspension of disbelief" was the reasons the two countries were able to finalise the civil nuclear deal.