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Singh seizes N-tide at the flood
- Stamp minus shackles: Delhi

Washington, July 19: It would be wrong to suggest that India was paying too high a price for the US recognition that “for all practical purposes India should have the same rights and benefits as any other nuclear weapons power”, foreign secretary Shyam Saran said, in an attempt to nip such criticism in the bud.

The joint statement with the US did not place any limits on India’s military nuclear programme, Saran argued. He cautioned against reading into the joint statement any suggestion that there was likely to be a restriction on India’s defence-related nuclear programme.

“This is not about nukes (nuclear bombs). It is about civilian nuclear energy co-operation. The military aspect is completely out of this. Please do not read anything in it which is not there,” he said.

Saran said India had faced “discriminatory (nuclear) regimes” in the past but “now they will go and we will be a full partner of the US”.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apparently quoted Shakespeare to President George W. Bush: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

Saran recounted this to suggest that India and the US had seized the moment for taking on reciprocal obligations to catapult India into the same league as other leading countries with “advanced nuclear technology” ' a euphemism for nuclear weapons states.

“We have been talking about a transformation taking place in India-US relations. I think that transformation is now there for everyone to see,” he declared, commenting on the outcome of the meeting between Singh and Bush.

Indeed, it is no mean achievement to get the US to agree to civilian nuclear co-operation with India, after New Delhi was put in the doghouse due to its May 1998 nuclear tests and its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a discriminatory treaty.

The negotiations on removing these restrictions were apparently tough and “to the wire” although much credit is being given by all concerned to external affairs minister Natwar Singh’s visit to Washington this April.

The foreign secretary said that in agreeing to certain international obligations (see chart above) India was only undertaking responsibilities “which are no more or no less than any other nuclear weapons state”.

“If you have the principle that I will do no more or no less than any other nuclear weapons state, then what are you giving away' India has always said that there should be no discrimination. There should be equality. We have taken on only those obligations that others have. We have always said that we will not accept any conditionality that others haven’t,” he said.

In return, Saran said, “India has got a whole range of co-operative activities in the field of civilian nuclear energy. You are getting more than fuel for Tarapur. There is a major breakthrough.... We are being invited to be a full partner in the development of ITER (International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor) project and Generation IV nuclear reactors.”

India will now put its civilian nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards: agree to make the input and output of nuclear materials in these facilities transparent and subject to close accounting procedures verifiable by the international agency.

“Such safeguards would be limited only to civilian facilities and that also on a voluntary basis,” Saran clarified.

To this end, India will have to separate its civilian nuclear facilities from its military nuclear facilities ' plants geared towards generating electricity (Tarapur, Narora, Kudamkulam, etc.) would be separated from reactors geared towards producing weapons-grade plutonium for bombs (possibly Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, etc.).

The foreign secretary argued that the agreement should be seen in the spirit of India and the US assuming mutual responsibilities and obligations. “It is not as if we are committed to doing something while the other side does nothing,” he argued.

“The US President has made a public commitment that he is going to Congress to seek changes in laws as well as approach international organisations (to allow civilian nuclear co-operation with India). We are reciprocally taking on some other commitments. There is a balance here,” he said.

All this was “a recognition of India coming of age”, Saran argued. “We should not be sceptical about it.”

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