Washington, June 28: Richard Boucher found it unsettling. The newly minted US assistant secretary of state had just been at an informal dinner in Vienna and the Chinese permanent representative to the UN buttonholed him.
Tang Guoqiang had pressed Boucher for a nuclear deal with Pakistan similar to the one President George W. Bush had concluded with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to India three weeks earlier.
Boucher was in Vienna for a meeting of the “consultative group” of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in the third week of March.
Boucher had not expected the Chinese to bring up Pakistan’s case up front. It was not Chinese style.
A week later, foreign secretary Shyam Saran was in Washington. The US under-secretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, asked Saran about his visit to Beijing and Shanghai in February.
Saran said he had briefed the Chinese about progress towards a nuclear agreement, but the Chinese had been typically inscrutable.
Burns turned quizzically to Boucher who gave Saran an account of his encounter with Tang Guoqiang. Boucher said he had responded to the blunt Chinese request with an equally blunt “no”.
There was no way the US would do anything remotely similar to the Indo-US deal for Pakistan. Tang took the rebuff in his stride.As the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee last night cleared the first major legislative hurdle in the way of the deal, it was clear the conversation was a turning point in the Indian strategy to push through the deal quickly, even if compromises had to be made.
Officially, India played no part in either drafting the bill that was passed by the committee yesterday or in influencing Congressmen or senators.
But behind the scenes, India and Indian-Americans worked with the administration and key Congressmen to accommodate all shades of opinion on Capitol Hill into the bills in the Senate and the House.
It was necessary to quickly complete implementing the nuclear deal before the Chinese moved more pieces on the diplomatic chessboard in favour of Pakistan.
As a result, the 24-page bill ' plus eight pages of amendments ' passed yesterday has a lot of gibberish about the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, Iran, democracy and so on, which have little to do with help for India’s civilian nuclear sector.
Fortunately, none of it is in the sections of the bill which will be binding on New Delhi 'unless India’s pro-American lobby decides to please Washington more than it wants to be pleased.