The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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123 to 456, US rubs salt into Karat cut

New Delhi, Sept. 18: US ambassador David Mulford today underlined that “time is of the essence” and “we must take the last steps” to finalise the 123 Agreement and then go on to “456” — his new coinage to describe a “comprehensive relationship” between India and America.

The utterances could well jeopardise any chance of an entente between the UPA government and the Left parties on the nuclear deal.

Mulford’s “time is of the essence” remark at the Indo-US Economic Summit this evening came hours after CPM general secretary Prakash Karat told a party rally that the government should wait “for at least six months” and discuss the deal in Parliament before proceeding any further.

The Left has repeatedly made it clear that the government should not take the “next steps” on the deal till opponents of the agreement — including the “majority” in Parliament — give the green signal.

Mulford, on the other hand, stressed the need to take the “last steps” which are exactly the same as the Left’s “next steps”.

These, he explained, “involve completing the IAEA-India Safeguards Agreement, and securing the Nuclear Suppliers Group rule change which will permit this initiative to be global in scope. Finally, the US Congress must vote once more on the 123 Agreement, an action best accomplished by this administration in the life of this Congress”.

Although Mulford did not spell out the time frame, his insistence on “this administration” ties in nicely with the Manmohan Singh government’s eagerness to seal the deal before President George W. Bush becomes a “lameduck” President, starting early next year.

It equally serves as a red rag to the Left which has been accusing the Prime Minister of being in far too much of a hurry to complete the deal and making it contingent on the Bush presidency.

If the US ambassador’s remarks on the timetable for the deal are calculated to raise the hackles of the comrades, his subsequent elaboration on the “456” trajectory in Indo-US relations could embarrass the UPA which has been trying hard to dodge allegations that there is more to 123 than just nuclear energy.

In words that seemed to echo Karat’s charge that the nuclear deal was aimed at ushering in a new strategic partnership, Mulford said: “We are at a great moment in the history of our two democracies. We have overcome past differences and are charting a new course for the future.”

He went on to say: “This new course moves us from 123 to what I call 456. This is the ‘comprehensive relationship’ I have spoken of so often…: encompassing both our official bilateral relationship and the multitude of private contacts and relationships that exist between our peoples. This is the broader, longer term vision for US-India relations that touches all fields of human endeavour for which civil nuclear (cooperation) is important, but only one part of the larger whole.”

In a statement that is certain to reinforce the Left’s fears of closer defence ties, Mulford said that “456” would cover every front. “We are engaging with India on virtually every important front, from defence and space cooperation to critical transnational issues such as counter-terrorism, health, education and climate change.”

Mulford underscored that “one engine to advance macro-economic activity across India is further liberalisation in India’s banking and financial markets” — something the Left has been stoutly opposing.

Similarly, his praise of the Prime Minister’s call “for a paradigm shift in the economic and commercial use of water” or his advocacy of “organised retail, especially in rural areas”, is likely to add fuel to the Left’s fire.

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