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US betrays impatience

Washington, Oct. 23: The Bush administration today signalled its impatience over what is seen here as stalling by the UPA-Left committee on the nuclear deal.

Nicholas Burns, the administration’s under-secretary of state for political affairs, who has steered negotiations on the deal with New Delhi since it was announced in July 2005, told the Council on Foreign Relations today that “we would like to get this agreement to the US Congress by the end of the year”.

“We don’t have an unlimited amount of time,” Burns said in significant contrast to the position taken by the White House a day earlier, before news reached here that the UPA-Left panel had postponed any decision until another meeting on November 16.

Yesterday, White House spokesman Tony Fratto had told reporters that “I think it is too early to express disappointment”, asked if President George W. Bush was disappointed after his conversation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a few days ago. Singh told Bush then that “certain difficulties have arisen” in operationalising the deal.

“I think we have some work to do and I think we can get it done,” Fratto asserted yesterday. “We do not believe we can close the book on that (deal) yet.... We want to work with India. We understand that they have to deal with their local politics, just like we frequently have to deal with our local politics in dealing with these kinds of issues.”

But Burns said today that “this is a time for reflection” and used a double negative when queried about the consequences of the UPA government not being able to fulfil its part of the bargain. “I am not as pessimistic.”

He said with elections in the US in 2008, it was increasingly difficult to get laws passed in the Congress.

Burns has rarely spoken in public about the deal since the Left parties decided to firmly challenge the Manmohan Singh government in August over operationalising the nuclear agreement with the US.

He has been meeting visiting Indians and Indian Americans in private and his comments today significantly run counter to what Burns has been assuring these interlocutors behind closed doors.

Last week, for instance, the US diplomat told a group of Indian MPs that he would say nothing to add to the problems faced by the UPA government and would advise the US ambassador to India, David Mulford, to do the same.

However, the statements by Burns today are eerily similar to the ones made by Mulford at one point during the UPA-Left standoff that further muddied domestic political waters.

Simultaneously, diplomats here are sitting up after the Council on Foreign Relations released the text of an article Burns has written for the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, published by the council.

In that article, Burns argued that Indo-US “military cooperation is impeded by the fact that much of the Indian military still uses a considerable amount of Soviet-era equipment.

Barriers to closer coordination in training and the sharing of military doctrine remain in both governments.”

The remarks are clearly intended to signal displeasure here over Indo-Russian defence cooperation a few days after defence minister A.K. Antony’s visit to Moscow, to be followed in less than three weeks by a prime ministerial trip to Russia. Burns virtually made clear Washington’s bottomline for military cooperation with New Delhi.

“A significant Indian defence purchase from the US — for example, of the new advanced multi-role combat aircraft that the Indian Air Force seeks — would be a great leap forward and signal a real commitment to long-term military partnership.”

Burns surprisingly wrote that “some of India's fellow non-aligned countries are among the world's most oppressive and anti-democratic regimes. India’s defence of those countries in resolutions at the UN and its political and military cooperation with some of them — most notably Burma — is anachronistic.”

The reference to India’s non-aligned links is surprising because the ministry of external affairs had recently taken issue with US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice for similar remarks about the non-aligned movement.

“India will also need to be careful about its long-term relationship with Iran,” Burns warned. “Indians will need to ask themselves if their civilisational link with the Iranian people shall be confused with support for the interests of their responsible theocratic regime in Tehran.”

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