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N-deal: Govt working on statement in Parliament

india Updated: Dec 09, 2006 21:26 IST
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The External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, has been closeted with officials and advisers after the US House of Representatives and the Senate finally voted early on Saturday to change American law to enable the administration to begin civil nuclear commerce with India.

Mukherjee, who is working on a detailed statement he will make in Parliament to explain what the Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Bill of 2006 means for India, has been consulting with as wide a cross-section of opinion-makers as possible, an official said, to ensure there is no misunderstanding of the context of the legislation.

The government's cautious official welcome to the legislation late on Friday was indicative that New Delhi is not jubilant, and wants many of the ambiguities of the legislation ironed out in the 123 Agreement that will now need to be worked out to form a legal basis for the bilateral cooperation.

The MEA spokesman, Navtej Sarna said on Friday, "Government also notes that this draft legislation contains certain extraneous and prescriptive provisions. 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 legislation is an amendment to a law of the United States," Sarna said. "Our obligations and commitments will be those that we undertake in the bilateral 123 Agreement. We expect that to adhere to the 18 July Joint Statement and the Separation Plan."

"The most important aspect is that the sanctions are over," said Arundhati Ghosh, India's former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament. "It is unprecedented for a country to change its laws for another country which is not even an ally," she said, commenting on the wider implications of the legislation. "It is also unprecedented the way we have gone through a country's legislative process as though it was our law. What is it that the US expects from India now, and would we be able to fulfill their expectations?"

According to Ghosh, "Domestically this could create major problems, and pose a major challenge for our diplomacy."

According to an analyst who has been involved in the negotiations, what the final bill does is provide the US administration with the waiver it requires to begin nuclear commerce and remove India's isolation from the international nuclear mainstream.

Senior officials were not willing to be quoted because the winter session of Parliament is on.

The final bill, according to analysts, does not make the waiver conditional any more, having removed most of the objectionable aspects of the US legislation to reporting requirements for the US administration.

"Overall, on balance, a critical landmark has been crossed, though there are elements we would have liked not to see," an official said, like Iran, like comments on India's strategic programme, and so on. But the "waivers are the heart of the bill" and India will have to skillfully negotiate the 123 Agreement to ensure that ambiguities in this bill are ironed out.

While the bill does not meet many benchmarks laid out by the Prime Minister in his statements to Parliament in August, the bill is applicable only to enable the US administration to go ahead with civil nuclear cooperation with India, analysts stressed. India's interest lies in determining how much this legislation would limit the US administration.

Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns publicly stated that the bill would allow the US administration to fulfill commitments made "at the highest level" on matters like uninterrupted fuel supply, to "fit well within the parameters of the July 18, 2005 and March 2 agreements."

Ambiguities concerning the reprocessing of spent fuel, on assurances of fuel supply adequate to build a strategic reserve and on fallback safeguards would have to be removed in the 123 Agreement.

Email Nilova Roy Chaudhury: nilova @hindustantimes.com

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