The most important outcome of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's comprehensive statement on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday and the high-quality debate that preceded it is the authoritative public identification of the implementation hurdles that still remain as far as the July 2005 agreement is concerned. As Dr. Singh and many MPs made clear, these hurdles spring from the unreasonable attempts being made by the U.S. Congress to turn the July agreement into something India never intended it to be an albatross round its neck. A certain amount of ambiguity about where New Delhi stood crept in due to the official silence on the language of the proposed U.S. Atomic Energy Act amendments and the defensiveness with which South Block responded to initial enquiries on the subject. Proceeding point by point, the Prime Minister managed to clear the air on a number of crucial issues. For example, the sequencing question has been laid to rest with his categorical assertion that Indian facilities would not go under safeguards until all U.S. and Nuclear Suppliers Group restrictions were "irreversibly" lifted. Further, he has clarified that India would insist on "full" civil nuclear cooperation, including the right to access technologies related to the nuclear fuel cycle, something the Senate version of the Bill explicitly denies. Dr. Singh also ruled out allowing a reference to an Indian nuclear detonation in the `123 agreement' as "a condition for future cooperation." He declared that annual certification by the U.S. President was "not acceptable to us" as it would introduce "an element of uncertainty regarding future cooperation." On safeguards in perpetuity, the Prime Minister indicated that India would insist that facilities placed under IAEA inspections would remain so only as long as the fuel-supply arrangements being drawn up for them were not disrupted. He also ruled out the possibility envisaged by the Senate Bill of U.S. inspectors entering Indian nuclear facilities.
The critical debate in which scientists, the media, and political parties analysed every detail and implication of the deal must be given much of the credit for making the Prime Minister spell out his Government's concerns and make a clear public stand on them for the first time. His studied response to the Rajya Sabha debate amounts to a formal drawing of red lines that neither the White House nor Capitol Hill should attempt to cross. While many of the concerns may stem from congressional caprice rather than executive intent, the White House is known to be opposed to lifting restrictions on fuel cycle-related material. In Congressional testimony, John C. Rood, a senior non-proliferation official, said the administration intends to retain the fuel cycle exclusion for India but would prefer doing so as a matter of policy rather than law. Now that Dr. Singh has said so explicitly, the exclusion of fuel cycle-related technology and equipment must be treated as a deal-breaker. If the Prime Minister has more or less cleared the air on the raft of nuclear-related concerns raised by MPs, scientists, and analysts, there remains the big question of the independence of India's foreign policy. Dr. Singh has declared that his Government will act only on the basis of India's national interest and will not allow foreign governments or legislatures to decide its foreign policy. He needs to demonstrate this in action far better than his Government has done thus far.