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Transcript of the Q&A session that followed Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran's Address to the Heritage Foundation on "Indo-US Relations: An Agenda for the Future"

Washington, DC
March 30, 2006


Question: ….Indian ambassador in Washington in an interview to India Abroad has said that India will accept no amendment…and there are indications that several United States Congressmen want some changes…

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran: Well as I mentioned that the understanding that we have reached between India and United States has been a result of painstaking and complex negotiations so the understanding is a rather carefully balanced one and it is a rather delicate balance and therefore it stands to reason that whatever legislative change that is contemplated, should be lying within the parameters of that understanding. As long as that legislation is within the bounds of that understanding I think we will have no problem, but it is really a hypothetical question at the moment because we will have to wait and see what precisely is the legislative change that has been brought about after it has been considered by the Congress

Question: Many countries have shared atleast some of India’s concerns and reservations about the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and if you recall at the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty review conference a month ago, a number of Non Governmental Organizations share some of India’s concerns, my question is if you are looking into the crystal ball tell us what more is there as a result of what is now being done between India and United States, India and France, between United States and NSG in this regard? What hope is there that a discriminatory treaty like Nuclear Test Ban Treaty will eventually be buried or at least a mandate in the long run will take into account some of India’s reservations?

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran: I don’t think we are in the business of being undertakers for any treaty involved or any agreement. I think it is important to make a distinction between our problem with the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty as a treaty and the concept of non proliferation. I think people forget that India was one of the original sponsors of the negotiation on non proliferation and the reason why India didn’t eventually sign the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty was because we felt that while concrete commitments were being imposed on non nuclear weapon states there was no such commitment to nuclear disarmament on the part of nuclear weapon states. It was a rather vague and an open ended one and it has always been our position that the cause of non proliferation will be better served if there was a balance of obligations. 

So as far as the concept of non proliferation is concerned India has always been in a sense in the nonproliferation mainstream. Although it didn’t sign the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, but India has always been very careful as well not to rubbish the non proliferation treaty. We have our reservations on the nature of the treaty but we have never rubbished the treaty either looking at the kinds of changes taking place at this time or will take place as a result of the understanding between India and the United States. Let us see where it takes us. Whether this is conveyed to a broader and a newer international consensus on non proliferation, we believe that such an international consensus is perhaps overdue.

Question: I was hoping you might respond to a critics’ claim that Congress is being asked to consider a deal that has not being completely settled. 

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran: I think if you look at the detailed separation plan which India has provided after a very difficult and complex negotiation with the United States side I am not quite sure what is going to be done, unless there is a change of law in the United States which makes it possible for India and United States to engage in energy cooperation then we can’t proceed further ahead. Of course that cooperation will be subject to India’s negotiation and India specific safeuards agreement with the IAEA which we will have to do and that is something which is clearly understood by both sides. We also know that if there has to be a broad international cooperation between India and the international community in civil nuclear energy cooperation then there will have to be an adjustment of the NSG guidelines and I think on both these fronts there is considerable amount of activity taking place. These will have to move in tandem

Question: There is a provision in the legislation which the Bush administration sent up to the hill which says that India has to permanently forego future nuclear weapons testing or United States - India nuclear trade will be curtailed. My question: is that something the Indian government had signed onto? As part of the agreement have you agreed to never again test nuclear weapons?

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran: As you know, the July 18th joint statement has a clear provision that India will continue to maintain its moratorium on nuclear tests. That is part of United States law - that if there is a state which is exploding a nuclear device then that will trigger off an end to cooperation with that country. As part of United States law that is fine. It is not part of Indo-United States treaty core understanding

Question: Yesterday some of the Congressmen and Senators, as well as the state department officials, had given views about the nuclear cooperation. Viewing these things it gives us an impression that this is a very long term process to solve this issue and time frame given to any suggestions when it can happen. I think the way the lawmakers express the reason as well as the state department officials it seems it is a very very long process.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran: I think as I stated in my own opening remarks that we come from a democracy and we have seen in India itself how much debate and controversy there has been on this issue and we are not at all surprised that there would be debate and the doubt should be expressed and clarification should be sought. In another great democracy the implied thing for us is that we believe that they do have answers, very satisfactory answers to many of the reservations and many of the questions that have been raised and if people look at this particular agreement in the larger context of India - United States relations, and that is why I spelt out for you the very broad ranging partnership that is evolving between India and United States, because it is only in terms of that broad evolving partnership that this agreement makes sense. 
If you take it out of context then perhaps it will give rise to certain misgivings and doubts but the agreement itself has become possible essentially because there is a broad ranging strategic partnership which is evolving between the two countries and the other point I would like to make is this is not something which is a sudden and a kind of a rabbit out of the hat agreement, it is the culmination of a process which began several years ago, straddling both Democratic as well as Republican administration. It is a culmination of efforts made across the political spectrum both in India as well as United States. I think the fact that it has been a process supported by virtually the entire political spectrum in both the countries testifies to the strength of the relationship and testifies to the great potential of the relationship

Question: If this agreement is not ratified how big a shock will this be on a broader Indian - United States partnership?

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran: Well I don’t think that it is really necessary for us to already start predicting its demise. We have the sense that in Washington amongst the Congressmen there is a very, very broad support for India - United States partnership. I think if that aspect of India - United States partnership is kept in view there is no reason why this agreement can’t go through. But actually there is a very broad ranging relationship between the two countries. If it doesn't go through it doesn't mean that everything else will fall by the way side. We must also recognize that for good reason or bad there is an intense focus on this particular agreement. Look at today I have talked about many other aspects of India – United States relations but every question I have been fielding has been on the nuclear issue, therefore whether related or not this has become symbolic of what we want to do with Indo - United States relationship. Therefore. if this particular agreement doesn’t go through there is no doubt that there will be, in international terms of the expectation that have been created and in terms of the enthusiasm that has been created, there will be some falling back.

Question: You have been to Dharamsala lately and seat of the Dalai Lama's Tibetan Government. Does that mean your Government's policy towards Dalai Lama has been changing…?

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran: I am not aware of any change in government of India’s policy on Tibet. We have taken a consistent position for a very long time that Tibet is an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. But we respect the Dalai Lama as a very important religious figure and a very highly respected figure. There is a reality that the Dalai Lama is in India and that there is a large Tibetan community in India and for historical reasons the welfare of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community is handled by the External Affairs Ministry of the Government of India of which I am the Civil Service head, so my visit to Dharamsala was essentially in that capacity.

Question: As you know one of the big criticisms that a lot of people have here, or disagreements, is the fear that the Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation will allow India to greatly accelerate its nuclear weapons production. What assurances have you given/ can you give the American public that India will not rapidly accelerate its weapons production? I realize that the government has the policy of minimal deterrence but this frankly doesn’t have a lot of resonance here, people really don’t know what it means.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran: Number one, I think it should be recognized that the deal with United States is about Civilian Nuclear Energy Cooperation. It is not about India’s strategic program. About nuclear weapons however - we recognize as India that if our partners engage with us in Civilian Nuclear Energy Cooperation they have legitimate expectations that whatever technology comes to India as a part of this cooperation, should not leak to other countries. There should be very strong export controls. That assurance we are prepared to give and we have already given in terms of the very comprehensive export control legislation that we adopted last year. We have also harmonized our export control list with the NSG and MTCI. 

Second expectation is that if a partner is engaging with us in cooperation, that should not in anyway advance our strategic program, and if we have a need for separation between our civilian and strategic program its because of this reason. Because we have to take action in order to give an assurance to our partners that whatever they do with us in the civil nuclear energy field will not have any kind of impact as far as our strategic program is concerned, that we have already provided as part and parcel of this agreement. 

Now as to whether or not India will engage in a nuclear arms race. Frankly this has no connection with the strategic program. I have also stated that for a very long time India’s record in this aspect has not been one of restraint but has been one of responsibility. We have not indulged in a nuclear arms race. There is no reason why it should be expected that merely because we have an agreement on Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation that suddenly the floodgates will be opened by India for larger and larger nuclear weapons. That is certainly not how we see our intention. It must also not be forgotten that India’s direction on nuclear disarmament, infiltration of nuclear weapons hasn’t changed, for example, with respect to non-proliferation, we continue to believe that the most effective non proliferation measure would be total elimination of nuclear weapons all together. 

We have felt that in respect of another category of weapons of mass destruction, that is, chemical weapons, we need to arrive at negotiations to a multilateral non discriminatory international instrument for the cessation of the production use of chemical weapons. We are prepared to enter negotiations for a similar instrument at the conference on disarmament. In fact, we are one of the strong supporters of commencement of negotiations of nuclear disarmament in Geneva. If that is our stand and yet we have said we will have a policy of non-first use, for example, we have for many years advocated a convention on the non use of nuclear weapons and outlawing the use of nuclear weapons. I think you could look at the record. Therefore there is really no reason for anyone to believe that merely because India and United States are going to engage in Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation that it is going to mean that this is going to lead to an arms race.