On the eve of the vote by the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors on the India-specific safeguards agreement, the chief negotiator of the India-United States nuclear deal Nicholas Burns has said the 123 Agreement 'absolutely is consistent with every part of the Hyde Act'.
After a hiatus of four months and speaking for the first time since leaving the Bush administration, Burns, currently on a short stint with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, emphasised, "The 123 Agreement does not supersede the Hyde Act. It's a complement and necessary part."
Explained: The IAEA safeguards agreement
Burns said, "When this agreement was negotiated, it was fully consistent with the provisions of the Hyde Act. So we have the right to terminate it if India tests." But he said it was highly unlikely that India would conduct a nuclear test.
He also added, "No aspect of this deal recognises India as a nuclear weapons state."
Burns also said he does not agree with some of the opponents of the deal, who fear that the deal would tear the nonproliferation regime apart and even prompt US allies like Japan and Turkey to reexamine their nuclear options.
Burns, who was the lead panelist on a discussion of the deal at a seminar organised by the Brookings Institution, said that he was overjoyed that the Indian government had survived the trust vote. "In my judgment, it is a triumph for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It was his persistence and his very strong will -- his belief in this agreement and his belief in the US-India partnership that brings the situation to the very happy place where it currently resides."
The Trust Vote
The erstwhile diplomat, who said he spent "three years, eight trips to India and hundreds of hours negotiating" the deal, said it was "also a victory for President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- President Bush followed President Clinton and these are the two presidents who made a strategic bet on India."
Burns predicted that the deal would transform "the Indian public's attitude towards the United States, and in essence it takes away the elephant in the room."
Elaborating, he explained that despite the sixty-years-old diplomatic relations between the two countries, "for more than half of that, the elephant in the room has been the prospect that India felt it was not treated equitably by our country and others."
"My conviction has always been that this deal strengthens the international nonproliferation regime because it resolves this fundamental contradiction inherent in the regime, where countries like India, which were outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but were playing by the rules of the club were not allowed to join the club," he pointed out.
While stating that he "wouldn't dream of equating India with Iran," he added, "This agreement is an important message to Iran that if you play by the rules, if you don't proliferate your sensitive technologies, if you invest in the international system and commit yourself to transparency and work out your differences in a peaceful, civil, negotiated way, there will be benefits. And, if you don't do that, the opposite is truethere will be sanctions and isolation."
He predicted that "a conservative estimate would be that within a generation, 90 percent of India's nuclear establishment would be under IAEA safeguardsnone of that would have been possible without this fundamental break with conventional wisdom that President Bush put forward three years ago."
N-deal has 'gone' with Burns: Indian Americans
Burns, who is expected to land a top job soon in the private sector as soon as he completes his three-month sojourn at the Wilson Center, said, "US business ought to be at the head of the line when India begins to expand its construction of civil nuclear reactors."
But former Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration Strobe Talbott said, "This is emphatically a good deal for India and India is a good and deserving country and needs all the help it could get from the US and the world. It is however, at least in its essence, not a good deal for the world."
Talbott had negotiated the strategic dialogue with then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, after the US-India relations were in the doldrums following the May 1998 Pokhran nuclear explosions.
The Bomb and After
He argued that by creating a 'unique country-specific exception or exemption' for India, "it also creates a moral hazard and there have already been cases where countries have come to the United States and to others and said, 'Hey, wait a minute, we are a good country too, we need an exemption too."
"And, that issue is going to loom fairly large in the months ahead," Talbott, currently the president of The Brookings Institution, warned.
He also predicted that this deal would ultimately "come back and bite India in some fashion."
Talbott said if the NPT "continues to unravel, it may be in some measure because of the Indian exception to the NPT and that unraveling could continue in a way that could leave us with the world, 10-15 years from now, where there are as many as 25 nuclear weapons states, quite a number of which would be in India's neighborhood, which is, as we all know a rather dangerous neighborhood."
Talbott is right, so is Sinha
However, he said he was relieved that the deal did not collapse and the Manmohan Singh government survived because "if it had gone the other way, the next president, the next administration of the United States, would find themselves in an even tougher position."
"They would have had to go back to square one at best and may be even earlier to square one like back in the 1990s and India would have been in a truly grouchy mood about this whole issue."
Talbott said that he "did not celebrate the apparent collapse of the deal. I did not dance on the grave out of which the deal has now emerged like Lazarus because I could see problems emanating from that."
Robert Einhorn, former assistant secretary of state for Nonproliferation in the Clinton administration and part of the first Bush administration, before he was pushed out since he was the biggest impediment to a strategic partnership with India and was vehemently opposed to any transfer of nuclear technology to India, argued, "In the three years since the deal was negotiated, I've seen little evidence of India moving toward the nonproliferation mainstream."
He said that he was confident that "if the Nuclear Suppliers Group makes a decision by secret ballot, the proposal for a special exemption for India will fail."
But he said because the consensus that would be reached would not be by a secret ballot, he believed it would favour India "because a vast majority of the NSG members will not want to disappoint India or the United States."
What China thinks about the N-deal progress
Einhorn said if some states threw a spanner into the works and wanted some modifications in the agreement, it is likely that China "will be smiling."
Stephen Cohen, head of the South Asia Programme at Brookings and moderator of the discussion, predicted that "implementation of the agreement will be difficult even if it does go through," in the US Congress.
He also said he did not believe it would 'produce the kind of strategic benefits', that Burns had spoken of but acknowledged "it will get rid of that giant shadow of the relationship."
Cohen also said that it was highly unlikely that India would conduct nuclear tests unless China and Pakistan began testing "because I don't think they need the kind of complex, sophisticated system to make themselves to great power status."
But Talbott strongly disagreed, saying, while he had 'no inside knowledge' his recollection "There remains a debate within the strategic community in India over whether the Pokhran tests were truly successful and fully sufficient for the scientific and military purposes involved."
"So, I think that is an open question at least in some very smart brains in India. So, I don't think we can be totally confident on that score," he argued.