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Why Vajpayee didn't sign the nuclear deal

By Onkar Singh
July 19, 2006 23:13 IST
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Ashley Tellis is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. He worked overtime along with United States Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns and Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran to seal the India-US nuclear agreement.

A native of Mumbai, Dr Tellis -- now an American citizen -- was in New Delhi on the occasion of the first anniversary of the historic July 18, 2005 agreement.

At a time when India has said it won't agree to any new conditions from the US, Dr Tellis -- not one to mince words -- tells Senior Associate Editor Onkar Singh how the Vajpayee government missed the opportunity to seal the deal and how the US can handle China without India's support.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. So, what are the US motivations behind this nuclear deal?

It is not we who wanted to snatch the deal. It was India that had been asking for such a deal for the last five years. Even the (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee government wanted to have a nuclear agreement.

Why was no deal struck then with the Vajpayee government?

The deal could not be reached because the Vajpayee government did not offer much to the US in exchange for the agreement. We got more from the government of (Prime Minister) Dr Manmohan Singh.

What is it that you wanted from the Vajpayee government but could not get?

I am afraid I cannot answer this question.

Did Dr Singh cave in easily?

I would not say that. There were long discussions before the agreement was reached. These discussions went on for a long time in Delhi and Washington. Under Secretary Burns led the American delegation in the discussion and the Indian side was led by the then foreign minister (K) Natwar Singh, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan and officials of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Has Dr Singh caved in...

There is no question of Dr Singh caving in.

India has got a deal that it would not have got in the past or in the future.

Maybe India would have had better bargaining powers five years from now.

Maybe India would have been in worse conditions than it is today. Everything would have depended upon what was offered to us in exchange for what India wanted.

Are you confident that the nuclear bill will be passed by both Houses of the US Congress?

The bill has to be passed before November. It may not be passed in its current form but with a better framework. Some of the key issues may have to be redrafted. And improvements may have to be carried out.

The bill has to be passed by the present Congress that will be dissolved in November 2006 and hence the bill has to be passed before that. Since this Congress took up the bill, it must pass it as well.

So the United States is more interested in safeguarding its own interests.

It applies both to India as well as to the United States. Both countries are safeguarding their interests.

Is there a clause in the bill to ban nuclear tests under the treaty?

There is no such clause but under US law, barring the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, if any other country tests a nuclear device then sanctions would have to be applied.

Will the treaty fall if India conducts a nuclear test?

I won't say it will, but it could.

Is the US trying to balance out China by having strong relations with India?

The US does not need India. We can balance China on our own. We did the same to the Soviet Union.

What happens to the supply of uranium in case the US backs off?

In that case there is an open market for you and you can buy from any other sources the same material that the US was supplying to India.

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Onkar Singh