| Swadesh Chatterjee (second from right), who took the initiative to mobilise the Indian community in the US in support of the nuclear deal, with Senator Joe Baiden (third from right) in Washington DC. Picture by Jay Mandal/On Assignment
New Delhi, Nov. 17: India has been cautious in its response to the nuclear bill being passed in the US Senate despite the overwhelming support it secured.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh welcomed the development but added: “We still have a long way to go before the nuclear cooperation between India and the US becomes a living reality.”
Doubts linger in Delhi whether the final version will stick to the letter and spirit of the July 18, 2005, Indo-US joint statement and the March 2006 separation plan.
Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee said in an official statement: “We must await the final version before drawing any conclusions.”
India also realises that in the context of America’s fear of China emerging as a rival power, India could be Washington’s best strategic ally.
The Prime Minister said aspects of the two nuclear bills passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate were “not identical” and the process of reconciling the two would “have to take on board our (India’s) concerns”.
In reply to a question, he said President George W. Bush had promised he would work to ensure the final version stuck to the two agreements.
Sources said India’s lingering concerns were:
Whether the US President would still have to annually certify India’s nuclear non-proliferation compliance to the Congress. India wanted a deal in perpetuity and not one subject to an annual review
Whether there would be curbs on India’s nuclear weapons programme
The question of end-use verification.
However, sources said today’s development had “positive long-term” ramifications for India. “The bipartisan nature of the voting suggested that across the US political spectrum, there is a desire to change relations with India,” they said. The decision to have it passed in a lame-duck session was further “proof” of US “commitment” to the deal.
The Prime Minister had succeeded on two points, sources said. One, he had not allowed the impression to gain ground that only the ruling Republicans were his friends and not the Democrats.
Secondly, Singh sent across a message with his meeting with Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki last evening. The meeting had sparked panic in certain pro-US quarters, which asked his advisers why Singh was “jeopardising” India’s chances in the Senate. “But the Prime Minister was certain that by now, America has a good understanding of what India is. The message that we will pursue an independent foreign policy was never lost on the US,” a source said.