Washington, Feb 24: Ahead of his much-awaited visit to New Delhi, US President George W Bush has made it unequivocally clear to India that it must separate its military and civilian nuclear facilities for the implementation of the July 18 historic deal between him and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for cooperation in the civilian nuclear energy field, asserting that Washington did not consider this an "unrealistic request".
"I appreciate the Prime Minister's courage last July of laying out a way forward, which I support. And so first things first is to go to India and hopefully reach an agreement on separation, and then bring that agreement back and start selling it to the (US) Congress. But we can't bring anything back until we have agreed to the agreement," he said in an interview to 'The Times of India' on the eve of his landmark visit.
He noted that US Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns was in the Indian capital, discussing the implementation of the deal with his Indian counterparts. "We have been working through what has been a difficult issue for the Indian government, as well as for the American government. To change the past, the ways of the past can be difficult at times," he added.
The President observed that it was in America's interest to encourage India and aid in its development of a civilian nuclear power programme.
"The American people are beginning to see the high prices of energy, but so are the Indian people. And the reason why is that there's growing economies--ours, India's, China's-- which is adding to global demand for energy. And the demand is outstripping supply," he added.
Asked if he considered India a responsible nuclear nation, he said "I do, particularly when they signed the IAEA safeguards and have separation between military and civilian nuclear parts of their government." On why India has to jump thorugh hoops to get a civilian nuclear agreement, when its energy requirements were similar to China, the American leader said "There are the nuclear supplier group, and the IAEA--in other words, the world has signed on to this. We think it's in India's interests to do so, as it pertains to its civilian nuclear power industry. It will give confidence to people. It will make it easy for the US to work with India. This will be a confidence building measure that we don't believe is unrealistic request. And we realise there will be separation between the military side amd the civilian side. We're working on the civilian side." Mr Bush said the American people would have to understand that a prosperous India was advantageous to the Us industries. "I mean, we want people buying American products, Indians want Americans buying Indian products, and that exchange of trade in a free and fair way is beneficial for workers and consumers."
Mr Bush was frank in saying the cold war had made it difficult for India and the United States to establish a close relationship. But attitudes began to shift in the post-cold war era and after India embraced economic reforms, he added. The common threat of terrorism faced by the two countries also make the two nations work together, he said adding he intends to seize the common interest to foster a strategic relationship.
Lauding the "tremendous contribution" made by Indian Americans to his country, he said a lot of the brainpower behind the hi-tech boom that helped transform the American society have been Indian Americans as well as Indians educated in the United States.
The American people have begun to get kind of a different perspective on the great contributions that India can not only make to their own country but to the world, he said.
Mr Bush said he appreciated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's courage last July of laying a way forward in nuclear cooperation between the two countries.
"And so first things first is to go to India and hopefully reach an agreement on separation (of civilian and military nuclear reactors), and then bring that agreement back and start selling it to the Congress," he said.