Negotiating a sensitive agreement that requires compromise and accommodation for the other’s point of view is never easy when done in the glare of public scrutiny. We can then understand why Indian and American officials have provided little detail of the ongoing negotiations over the ‘123 Agreement’ that will bring into operation the India-US nuclear deal. It is quite gratifying to note the speed with which things have moved ever since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush signed the July 18, 2005, agreement announcing the deal. Even though the US has had to virtually stand its non-proliferation policy on its head for New Delhi, the Hyde Act giving American legislative sanction to the deal drew massive bipartisan support in the US Congress.
Of late, there have been worries that India may be losing interest because of a perception that the Act had allegedly shifted some of the goalposts. The initial rounds of negotiation that took place in Washington last month and in New Delhi earlier this week have belied these fears.
A lot of hard slog remains. The 123 Agreement will be signed by a representative of the Government of India as well as that of the US. For this reason there is need to ensure that the language of the agreement anticipates future contingencies that could undermine the cooperation. India needs to take into account some history of the Tarapur Agreement of 1963, when the US first committed itself to supply enriched uranium fuel for the lifetime of the reactor, and then backed out citing new domestic laws, refusing to take back or allow us to reprocess the spent fuel. The US probably worries about our shock 1998 nuclear tests. Top US negotiator Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns says the challenge is to “square the circle”. In other words, work out an agreement through which both sides will keep to the letter and spirit of the July 18 agreement, the Hyde Act and the commitments made by Mr Singh to both Houses of Parliament.