The powerful non proliferation lobby in US, which had waged a no-holds barred effort to scuttle the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal but came a cropper, put it own spin to President Bush signing the implementing legislation into law last week.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, who coordinated the lobbying efforts of a coalition of non proliferation groups and activists against the deal on Capitol Hill, said after Bush signed the deal, "Not surprisingly, to help Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh try to satisfy right-leaning domestic critics of the deal, President Bush's comments on the resolution of approval of the 123 Agreement leave open the question how the language in the 123 on fuel supply assurances and termination should be interpreted."
Bush in his remarks that preceded his signing the legislation, said, "The legislation does not change the fuel assurance commitments that the United States government has made to the government of India, as recorded in the 123 Agreement."
Kimball argued that "however, Bush's comments do not in any way negate US law, including the Atomic Energy Act, the Hyde Act or HR 7081(that Bush signed) or his own Administration's statements that make is absolutely clear that if India resumes testing, US nuclear trade and fuel supply assurances shall be terminated and the 123 Agreement is 'over.'"
Thus, he said, "Whether India likes it or not, there will be practical limitations on nuclear trade between the US and India -- and there will be consequences if India makes the mistake of breaking her non proliferation commitments."
Congressional aides to a group of US lawmakers who voted against the legislation in the House and who wrote to Bush on the morning of his signing of the deal also put a similar spin and said although India could interpret it otherwise, they too believed that the President's remarks made it clear that India would find itself with a terminated agreement if they were to test.
They pointed to the president's assertion that the bill he signed "makes clear that our agreement with India is consistent with the Atomic Energy Act and other elements of US law."
In their missive to Bush, the lawmakers led by Congresswoman Ellen O Tauscher, chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, and including the likes of Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said, "As members of Congress who voted both for and against the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non proliferation Enhancement Act, we are writing to express our deep concern about reports that you plan to issue a signing statement to accompany your signature on the Act that may alter previous Administration commitments to the Congress regarding US fuel supply assurances to India and undermine key provisions of the Henry Hyde Act."
The lawmakers said their concern was exacerbated by a report in the October 5, 2008 edition of The Washington Post in a story datelined New Delhi which quoted a senior unnamed Indian officials as saying that 'We would like President Bush to sign the legislation into law first and make a statement that alleviates our fears about fuel supplies. What if we sign it first here in Delhi (during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit there on October 4 where a signing was expected but didn't happen because India wanted Bush to sign first) and then President Bush signs it later and introduces a conditionality that is not acceptable to us?'"
The official had also said to the Post that Bush had stated "that some of the commitments in the 123 agreement are 'political in nature and not legally binding."
The lawmakers informed Bush that "both of those comments seem to indicate that the Indian government is seeking a repudiation of the commitments of your Administration to Congress regarding the implementation of the 123 Agreement, the requirements established by the 2006 Henry J Hyde Act, and the terms and understandings set forth in the 2008 United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act."
Tauscher and the other lawmakers argued that "it is paramount that the commitments outlined in these agreements be adhered to especially with regard to the termination of US trade to India in the event that India tests a nuclear explosive device."
They informed Bush of the State Department's response in January 2008 to then chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos' October 5, 2007 questions for the record on the 123 Agreement, assuring Congress that "should India detonate a nuclear explosive device, the United States has the right to cease all nuclear cooperation with India immediately, including the supply of fuel, as well as to request the return of any items transferred from the United States including fresh fuel."
The lawmakers said, that the State Department had also responded for the record by stating that testing of a nuclear device would render Article 5.6 of the 123 Agreement, which calls for assisting India in finding foreign sources of nuclear fuel in the event that the United States ceases nuclear cooperation with India, 'inapplicable.'
They reminded Bush that according to the State Department's responses, the US fuel supply assurances 'are not meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test or a violation of non proliferation commitments."
"We agree," the lawmakers wrote.
They also referred to an October 1, 2008 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from Rice, which had stated that "existing US law would require an automatic cut-off of cooperation, as well as a number of other sanctions, if India were to test."
She also reiterated in her April 5, 2006 statement to Congress, the lawmakers told Bush that "should India test, as it has agreed not to do, or should India in any way violate the IAEA safeguards agreement to which it would be adhering, the deal from our point of view, would be off."
They concluded their letter by asserting that "the record and the law are clear. We want to ensure that any public or private statements by the Administration with regard to this matter remain consistent with US law. Otherwise, we will be compelled to consider legislation in the next Congress to further clarify Congressional intent."
Besides, Tauscher and Skelton, the other signatories to the letter to Bush were Ed Markey -- one of the most acerbic critics of the deal -- Joe Sestak, Niki Tsongas, Rick Larson, Barbara Lee, Jim Langevin, Mark Udall and Jan Schakowsky.
Udall and Schakowsky who had voted in favour of the legislation, later in the day, withdrew their names from the letter.
A senior Administration official told rediff.com that nothing in the President's remarks preceding his signing of the bill, "conflict in any way with the commitments provided by the Administration and Secretary Rice in both her Congressional testimony and her letter to Majority Leader Reid regarding the consequences in the event India conducts a test."