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'The missing trust between India & US was restored'

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March 09, 2009 11:45 IST

Outgoing Ambassador Ronen Sen said on Sunday that the biggest legacy of the US-India civilian nuclear deal was not just civil nuclear cooperation that it would entail, but the restoration of trust between the two countries that was terribly eroded after Washington cut off nuclear fuel to India's Tarapur reactor following India first nuclear explosion in 1974.

At a farewell accorded him by a coalition of Indian-American associations of the Washington,DC metropolitan area, Sen said the major importance behind  the consummation of the deal was "a question of restoring trust -- trust which had been eroded -- and was a burden which we were carrying."

The envoy said that he had seen "how much it affected our relationship", after the US cut off supplies following India's 1974 nuclear test, because he was privy to all of the goings on since at the time he was with the Department of Atomic Energy and also the Secretary to the Atomic Energy Commission.

"It was a huge burden we were carrying of a symbol of a lack of trust," and recalled that particularly when the US slapped sanctions on India after the 1974 test, "you had a low point in our relationship, which was reflected in the visit of President Carter to India."

With the nuclear deal, Sen argued that "in a sense, what we have done is got that burden off our back and opened the way not just for civil nuclear cooperation with the United States, but getting over a regime, which had unfairly targeted India."

"So, we have corrected a historic wrong and we have restored trust. And, this in turn, has raised India's profile," he said.
Sen recalled how people had told him "right in the beginning, when I first proposed such an agreement, that 'Look, it's impossible. How can you expect this to be done because what you are asking for…for what your.. the audacity of this proposal is that you are asking for an entire international regime to be changed for one country," because it was unprecedented, and "there has been no example before."

However, waxing philosophical, the ambassador, who will relinquish his post on March 31 after a four-year tenure, which is one of the longest by an Indian envoy in Washington after Ambassador Naresh Chandra, declared, "If we don't strive, for what is impossible, if everything that you strive for is within your grasp, tell me, I mean, is life worth living?"

"We have to always strive for what seems to be beyond our grasp," he said. "So, when we grasped it, it showed in a way that nothing is impossible, if we have a will to do it. That is the importance of this agreement."

Sen acknowledged that "it will take time to sink in because I know how grave the doubts were. Some people thought, and still think, that maybe this is a Trojan horse. Why did they do it? There must be something(sinister behind it). But, it will take time, but it's already sinking in -- that this agreement was much beyond civil nuclear cooperation."

He reiterated that "it was, as I said, restoring India's position into what it should be in the globe and also it was a relationship, which is that this agreement was good for India certainly, but it was good for the United States and it was good for the world. And, that also has sunk in."

"I'll tell you very frankly, some of these discussions, which I had with a number of influential lawmakers over here, one of them told me  -- and I don't want to name a person -- Ambassador, if these things are not done, I'll find it difficult to vote for this legislation."

Sen spoke of how he had told this powerful US lawmaker that "I respect your views, we have differences, and we have differences in our own country, we have differences in our own family, having differences is something which you respect. So, unless, if you are not convinced that it's in the interest of the United States, if you think you are doing a favor for India, my earnest request to you is vote against it—please vote against it."

He predicted that the nuclear deal would "stand the test of time," largely because "this was not partisan. We got support -- bipartisan support. So, it's not building on shifting sands, it's built on something, which is important and that recognition was very important."

"And, that is the basis on which we are building on a number of areas," he added.

Sen said that "each step we have taken, each door you open, you move into a room and you find there are more doors and windows of opportunity. And, that is what we have started."

He said he did not want to list a laundry list of achievements, but said in the past few years there was progress in US-India relations in areas that were unprecedented.

"We hardly had any military exchanges, (but) today, you have more military exchanges, military exercises, of the services with the United States, more than with any country in the world," he said.

But Sen noted that "none of this would have been possible, I can tell you this -- and I am not telling you this just because you are here, I am telling you this because it is a fact -- that I could not have been able to do, or we, as a government of India, would not have been able to do much of what we did, without the whole-hearted support of the Indian American community."

Sen also spoke of his different stints with "different prime ministers," including "prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, but there's one thing let me tell you, that when I have represented my country, wherever I had gone, I've represented my country."

"I have not represented any particular political opinion," he asserted.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

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