The US is yet to give a definitive word about President George Bush's controversial assertion that US assurances to India about reliable supply of nuclear fuel were "political commitments" and not legally binding.
"It's a letter from the president to the Congress. I'll refer you over to the White House for an answer," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday when asked about Bush's assertion in a message asking the Congress to approve the India-US civil nuclear deal.
In the face of controversy triggered by Bush's message, India has maintained that working with the US in civil nuclear cooperation India will be guided by the 123 Agreement alone.
"India-US civil nuclear cooperation will be carried out on the basis of the respective rights and obligations of the two sides as contained in the Agreement," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna stated in New Delhi Friday.
"By doing so, the Government will ensure that India's rights are fully protected," he said.
In his message forwarding the implementing agreement, Bush said: "In Article 5(6) the Agreement records certain political commitments concerning reliable supply of nuclear fuel given to India Agreement does not, however, transform these political commitments into legally binding commitments because the Agreement, like other US agreements of its type, is intended as a framework agreement."
When pressed on the issue, "if President Bush sends a letter, a cover letter on the deal, and says something, is that binding on the deal? Like, does it hold?" McCormack said: "It's all a matter of the public record."
"We've had good discussions with the Indian government on this matter, the 123 agreement, as well as a number of other issues. And we're going to be providing quite a bit of information there... We have to the US Congress," McCormack said.
"And there's going to be testimony during that process. I'll let that testimony and the information that we've provided the Congress speak for itself," he added.
Asked whether the reference to "sensitive technologies" in the president's letter referred to enrichment and reprocessing technologies, McCormack said, "Again, the cover letter speaks for itself. I'm not going to have anything to add to it."
There was no comment from the White House either as the issue did not come up at the Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto's briefing to the media travelling with Bush to Oklahoma.
The State Department also said the Indo-US nuclear deal was a topic of conversation between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
"I'm not going to get into the details of it, but, of course, Russia is a member of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. They play an important role," the spokesman said.
"The IAEA played an important role in moving this agreement forward. And the secretary's message, basic message, was this agreement was good for India, good for the United States, good for the international (non-proliferation) regime," he said.