The United States would serve as India ’s "sherpa" in getting the 123 agreement accepted at the multilateral Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), said US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns in Washington on Friday. This process would include the US convening a special session of the NSG.
Burns said the Bush administration would actively work to convince the 45-nation NSG that it should provide India the same access to nuclear fuel and technology that the US plans to do under the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. "In a sense, the US will act as India ’s sherpa at the NSG." India is not an NSG member.
<b1>The 123 agreement outlines the nature of Indo-US nuclear cooperation. NSG approval would have to be preceded by the conclusion of an India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. These two hurdles have to be crossed before the US Congress can vote to approve the 123 agreement.
Burns said that after these two steps are taken, the Bush administration will "formally ask the US Congress to approve the agreement by November-December." He added, "We hope to see a repetition of the bipartisan support the agreement saw in Congress when it voted last time."
The US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher, had also spoken of the Bush administration’s intention to play "sherpa" when he briefed some 25 ambassadors from key NSG countries on Wednesday.
Burns defended the 123 agreement. He said India’s right to reprocess US-supplied fuel would have to wait until India set up a new safeguarded reprocessing facility. He said the reprocessing issue "was by far the most contentious issue to bedevil the last six months’ of the talks."
Burns said it was untrue to say the 123 agreement’s strongly worded assurances on fuel supplies to India were violative of the Hyde Act. The Hyde Act, passed last year by the US Congress, authorized the negotiating of the 123 agreement.
The non-proliferation lobby is already in full cry against the deal. The Arms Control Association said of the 123 text, "A bad deal gets worse."
Because of this criticism, Burns, US chief negotiator William Stratford, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will almost certainly have to march up Capitol Hill to testify before the US Congress and defend the 123 agreement. These testimonies will probably take place in September.
In preparation the state department, says an advisor to the US government, "is drawing up a legal defence of the 123 agreement, providing a line-by-line explanation of the entire agreement and how it is in accordance with the Hyde Act."