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Saran heat on sceptics in America

Washington, March 30: Foreign secretary Shyam Saran today warned American opponents of the Indo-US nuclear deal and fence-sitters on the follow-up legislation in Congress that “India cannot be a partner (of the US) and a target at the same time”.

His blunt warning, in a speech at the ultra-conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation, came after Saran, who arrived here from Vienna on Tuesday, ordered an assessment of the level of support on Capitol Hill for the legislation to implement the nuclear deal.

The assessment turned up discouraging results, sources familiar with Saran’s activities here said. It showed that the vast majority of Senators were sitting on the fence as far as their vote on the bill was concerned. Those in favour of the legislation and those opposed were equally divided, according to this assessment presented to Saran yesterday.

“I hope that Americans would increasingly appreciate that when an open society like India pursues its interests, this is more likely than not to be of benefit to the US,” Saran said.

The main burden of the speech was to win over opponents of the deal here or the undecided Americans.

It came a day after former President Jimmy Carter joined the growing list of prominent Americans campaigning against relaxing or lifting nuclear restrictions on India.

Carter wrote yesterday, the day Saran met members of Congress and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, that “the proposed nuclear deal with India is just one more step in opening a Pandora’s box of nuclear proliferation”.

In a sop to non-proliferationists here who have mounted a well-organised campaign against the deal in Congress and outside, Saran declared that India was prepared to enter into comprehensive negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

He said a model for such action already existed in the Chemical Weapons Convention, which oversaw the destruction of weapons of mass destruction and a ban on their production or use.

He also sought to calm the fears of those here who believe that the Indo-US nuclear deal will eventually bury the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), when he asserted that India had not “rubbished” NPT at any time, but only had reservations about the treaty.

Saran said it was important to make a distinction between the NPT and non-proliferation, in which Delhi was in the mainstream. He said a new international consensus on non-proliferation was overdue and mused: “Let us see where the Indo-US nuclear deal will take us.”

Saran admitted that the deal had become a symbol of what is there in the latest spurt in ties between Delhi and Washington, but declined to speculate what might happen if it fell through in Congress.

He sensed widespread support in Congress and outside for engagement between the two nations, but added everything in the relationship will not collapse if it was stalled.

He also pointed out that it was a delicate agreement on both sides and that any changes to the bill now on Capitol Hill would have to be within the ambit of that consensus if the deal were to survive.

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