The disclosure of documents, stating the US will stop fuel supplies and other nuclear cooperation if India conducts a nuclear test, was made as per earlier plans and has nothing to do with the Nuclear Suppliers Group meet starting today, a senior Congress senator said.
"The administration made it clear back in late July when there was no discussion of a second NSG meeting -- that it intended to submit the agreement for congressional consideration during September," Communications Director to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Lynne Weil said.
A 26-page document released by a well-known opponent of the deal, Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, contains an assertion by the Bush Administration that its assurances of nuclear supplies to India are not meant to insulate it against the consequences of a nuclear test.
The US position, which appears at variance with New Delhi's interpretation of some key clauses of the Indo-US nuclear deal, was made public just before the two-day meeting of the 45-nation group in Vienna which will consider a waiver that will enable India do nuclear commerce.
"Berman decided his colleagues must receive the materials in early September so that they could be well-informed when the administration sent the agreement to Capitol Hill.
"The Bush Administration always knew that this material would be made public prior to Congress considering the nuclear agreement. The release of the information should come as no surprise to the Administration," she added.
"The arrangement between the committee and the State Department to keep the materials confidential was from the start tied to the schedule for congressional consideration of the US-India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement," the top House aide to the Panel said.
Berman made public the State Department's responses to 45 questions on the deal posed by his predecessor Tom Lantos way back in October last year. The answers were given on January 16 but for nearly nine months the document was kept under wraps at the request of the State Department.
"The request for confidentiality had been granted with the understanding that the questions and answers could be released when congressional consideration of the nuclear deal becomes imminent," Lynne Weil maintained.
Indian officials have earlier stressed that the 123 agreement does not constrain New Delhi's ability to test a nuclear device but the State Department's responses are different on the issue.
It said should India conducts a test, the US has the right to cease all nuclear cooperation with it immediately, including the supply of fuel. Washington can request India to return items transferred from it including fresh fuel. In addition, the US has the right to terminate the agreement on one year's written notice.
"I am surprised people who are aware of all this 'are surprised' as there is US legislation on the subject that everyone knew. It wasn't included in the wording of the 123 Agreement; but that was a tactical reason to make it easier for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to get this approved," Walter Anderson, a former Senior State Department official, said.
"But there is some vague wording about it (testing) in the Hyde Act and there is pre-existing US legislation on the subject that mandates action," Andersen said, adding that he was not quite sure if there was something to the timing of the release of the State department communication.
"I am not quite sure. I think sometimes we read too much into timing. Some said it was done to influence the debate in the NSG, and maybe influence countries that have problems. That's possible," the South Asia expert maintained.