As the 123 goes to Capitol Hill and Bush serves notice that the Bush administration does not consider its fuel supply assurances to be legally binding, Indian sources say riders, amendments will jeopardise the nuclear agreement with the U.S....
India won’t wait for 123 to sign deals with France, Russia
New Delhi: Despite Washington’s expectation that India will wait for Congressional approval of the ‘123 agreement’ on bilateral nuclear cooperation before concluding deals with other suppliers, the government has decided to sign a landmark nuclear framework agreement with France during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Paris later this month.
Following last week’s waiver for India from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Bush administration is now trying to complete the U.S. domestic approval process for the 123 by September 26, when Congress formally adjourns, so that the issue does not require the convening of a special ‘lame duck’ session in December.
But regardless of the fate of the 123, India appears finally to have made up its mind to clinch its deals with France and Russia on a priority basis. “We will go ahead and sign with the French in Paris this month and with the Russians when [President] Medvedev comes to Delhi on December 4,” said an official source on condition of anonymity. The NSG had opened the door and India intended to go through it. Confirming that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had asked India to wait till the 123 was passed so that American companies were not disadvantaged, the sources said India had made no commitment to the U.S. “We have never said we will wait,” the source said, noting that External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had immediately clarified this issue when his remarks earlier in the week were taken as suggesting otherwise. “As for disadvantaging U.S. firms, the question does not arise because we are talking of a free market and competition,” the source added.
Hitting out at U.S. attempts to revise key provisions of the 123 agreement, the sources said that if President Bush and the State Department did not believe the text’s provisions were legally binding, “why did they put us through seven months of negotiations?” India, the source said, was now waiting to see how the U.S. domestic process got completed. “Let him complete his internal process and then come to us. [But] if the 123 comes with changes or conditions, we’ll see [our options].” Asked whether India might even refuse to sign the agreement if it came with riders that negated its key provisions, the source said, “Let us see. Until we actually sign, nothing is over.”
Washington’s approach, the sources stressed, was making it harder and harder for India to buy American material as and when the 123 was approved. “I think his own companies will now have to deal with him,” the source added.
India, he said, had taken up with the U.S. the contents of Mr. Bush’s September 10 letter to Congress as well as the State Department’s controversial replies to a set of questions raised by the House Foreign Relations Committee on the 123 agreement.