Nuclear 'secret letter': Sparks fly in India

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New Delhi/Washington, Sep 4: The nuclear 'secret letter' written by Bush administration to US Congress raised hackels in India. While Manmohan Singh with his party members huddled-up, the opposition cried foul outside PM's residence. The Left is gloating pointing out to the aspirators of India telling... 'I told you so...' Just discovered few hous before the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) had to meet in Vienna to discuss the waiver for India, it sure put the two nation into a doldrum.

According to reports, the Bush government has told the US Congress that it would not sell sensitive nuclear technologies to India and would end nuclear trade if New Delhi conducted a nuclear test. A special correspondence, which has remained secret for nine months, was made public on Wednesday, Sep 3 by Rep Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr Berman's release of the correspondence could make NSG approval even more difficult because it demonstrates that US conditions for nuclear trade with India are tougher than what it is requesting from the NSG on India's behalf.

UPA reaction to the letter

A statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry said India's policy of unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests was well known and New Delhi would be solely guided by the terms of the bilateral agreement between India and the US, the India-specific Safeguards Agreement at the IAEA and the 'clean waiver' from the NSG.

''We do not as a matter of policy, comment on the internal correspondence between different branches of another government. We will be guided solely by the terms of the bilateral agreement between India and the US, the India-Specfic Safeguards Agreement and theclean waiver from the NSG which, we hope, will be forthcoming in the meeting of the NSG. In so far as nuclear testing is concerned, our position is well known. We have a unilateral moratorium on testing. This is reflected in the Indo-US Joint Statement of July 18, 2005,'' a spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry said.

What did the 'secret letter' contain?

The correspondence had answers to 45 highly technical questions that members of the US Congress posed about the deal.

The questions were submitted to the State Department by Mr Berman's predecessor Tom Lantos in October, 2007, and answers were sent on January 16, 2008. For nine months, these documents were kept under wraps and have been made public just before the Vienna meeting.

However, the United States tonight clarified that there was nothing in the correspondence which had not been shared with the US Congress and the Government of India.

''This letter contains no new conditions and there is no data in this letter which has not already been shared in an open and transparent way with members of Congress and with the Government of India,'' US Ambassador to India, David Mulford, said here tonight while commenting on the January 16, 2008, State Department letter to the late Representative Tom Lantos.

The answers were considered so sensitive that the US State Department requested they remain secret even though they were not classified.

Ms Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for Mr Berman, said he made the answers public because, if NSG approval is granted, the Indo-US nuclear deal would soon be submitted to the US Congress for final approval and he wanted to assure that the Congress had the relevant information.

Reaction to the disclosure of the 'secret-letter'

The new disclosures kicked up a storm at home with prominent opposition political parties coming down heavily on the government. The BJP, while criticising the government for keeping the country in dark on the conditionalities attached to the nuclear deal, said the disclosures had brought 'shame to our country'. Former External Affairs Minister and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said the US stand had 'completely exposed' the UPA government on the issue.

''The most important thing is that the communication is nine months old...Government of India must have been aware of it,'' he said.

The CPM said its stand on the nuclear deal stood vindicated with the 'disclosures' and asked the UPA government to suspend all further moves to operationalise the 'anti-national' agreement.

''The government should suspend all further moves to operationalise the anti-national nuclear deal...'' it said adding that the Manmohan Singh government was 'thoroughly exposed' before the country for 'compromising' India's vital security interests. ...the government had absolutely no right to continue in power, CPM Polit bureau member Brinda Karat said.

The disclosures cast a shadow on the agreement itself and the outcome of the NSG meeting in Vienna to discuss clean waiver to India for nuclear commerce with the rest of the world.

While on the one hand the US is likely to take up the case for India, some members of the 45-nation nuclear cartel still oppose a clean waiver and have put conditions before a formal decison is taken.

India is confident of clean NSG waiver

India, on the other hand, is confident and optimistic about a clean waiver and has warned that if the 'red lines' set by it are not met, India would not endorse the agreement.

''What we are asking is that there are certain issues which have been drawn in red lines by us, because those are the commitments which have been made by our Prime Minister.

On those red lines we can't (give way) because that we have told Parliament. These are sacrosanct, if these are not met, we cannot endorse the agreement,'' National Security Advisor (NSA) M K Narayanan has said.

A revised draft, prepared by the US, will be taken up by the NSG after about 20 countries had put certain conditions at the nuclear cartel's August 21-22 meeting.

However, some countries including, Ireland, New Zealand, Austria and Switzerland still have reservations about the draft, saying the amendments made in the revised text are only cosmetic.

The deal must clear the NSG hurdle so that it passes on to the US Congress for final review before it is ratified.

The entire exercise must be completed before September end.


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