Will start nuclear trade immediately: Pranab Mukherjee
September 11, 2008
A A AThirty-four years of India's nuclear apartheid, imposed after the 1974 test, effectively ended with the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group amending its rules to permit civilian nuclear trade with the country.
Days after India's success at Vienna, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the chief interlocutor for India's civilian nuclear deal, spoke candidly to Managing Editor Raj Chengappa and Senior Editor Saurabh Shukla about India's nuclear future:
Q. How significant is the waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group?
A. It is the end of our nuclear isolation. After the 1974 test we faced severe restrictions. Our nuclear scientists were not even allowed to participate in international seminars. The NSG waiver has now given us the passport to do civilian nuclear trade with other countries. It is the recognition of India's special stature and India's impeccable record of non-proliferation. The international community is convinced that this civil nuclear co-operation is good for India and good for the world.
Q. Is the NSG waiver clean and unconditional?
A. Clean and unconditional are more or less the same. We have not accepted any unacceptable conditionalities and none of our red lines have been crossed. We have got a clean waiver. For instance, we did not want any condition imposed on us that we would not be permitted to conduct a test. We repeatedly pointed out that ours is a voluntary unilateral moratorium and we would not like to convert it into a treaty-bound obligation. Our position has been accepted by the NSG. They do not prohibit us from testing but that doesn't mean that we are permitted to do so by them. We have the right to act and they have the right to react. And if we act we have to face the consequences of all our actions.
Q. Were you disappointed by China's approach?
A. If China was not part of the consensus there would not have been a consensus at the NSG. It is as simple as that. Their actions before that and during the plenary is part of the normal decision making process.
Q. But the NSA did say it was upset?
A. There may have been statements. What I am saying is the policy of the government. I would like to go by what the Chinese foreign minister said which is that actions speak louder than words. And their action showed that they were part of the consensus.
Q. There is no domestic consensus as yet on the deal with both the BJP and the Left accusing you of selling India out?
A. I don't know how many times I have sold the country. In the eighties when as finance minister I borrowed money from IMF, the opposition said I had sold our economic sovereignty. They said the same when I signed the WTO agreement in the nineties. More recently when I was defence minister a similar accusation was made when I signed a framework agreement with the US. How many times can a thing be sold, resold and then resold. that's a good one
Q. The BJP's point is that we have surrendered the right to test and our strategic options are being capped?
A. They owe the nation an explanation as to why did they say after 1998 that India does not need to test any more. Why? What prompted them to declare unilateral moratorium? My point is that if we had the right to test in 1998 then we still have it now. At that point of time by exercising our right we had to face some consequences. It may happen exactly the same way. There is not an alteration of the situation at all. What remained earlier remains now. Nothing has been conceded. Therefore these are absolutely ridiculous and baseless criticisms.
Q. The BJP said it would renegotiate the deal if it came to power?
A. I will be too happy if they can renegotiate and get a better condition for the country,
Q. The Left wants a special session of the Parliament and accuses the government of lying but after the leak of the Howard Berman letter are you worried about it?
A. Who is lying? If I knew something and I didn't tell the truth then I am lying. But in this case, how can I be privy to what transpired between the executive and the legislative wing of the US government? We are only concerned with what we are party to like the 123 agreement and others. What is the basis of this accusation?
Q What about the issue of fuel supply assurances that are being raised?
A. You have to judge it with what is mentioned in the123 agreement. As I said the waiver is just the passport. The visa will be the bilateral agreement that we will sign with individual NSG countries.
Q. You said India would wait till the US deal is done before you start nuclear trade with other countries?
A. No. What I said was different. I said that 123 agreement is not complete till it is ratified by US Congress so we have to wait till the whole process if finalised before we can do nuclear trade with the US. Theoretically, nothing prevents us from signing up with other countries.
Q. So we can do business with other countries like France and Russia?
A. Of course we can approach other countries to start business and we would like to do it as early as possible.
Q Will you be amending the domestic atomic energy act to allow private companies into nuclear trade?
A. It is too early to say it. The current thinking is the government will do the trade through the atomic energy commission. I can't comment what will happen after the general elections and when a new government is in place.
Q. What about our weapons programme? Would there be any changes?
A. The nuclear doctrine has been enumerated by the previous Vajpayee government and we are strictly adhering to it. We are not enhancing or reducing our programme
. We must have a minimum credible nuclear deterrent, so that nobody will attack us with nuclear weapons because they know our retaliation would be unacceptable to them. We are not interested in stockpiling of nuclear weapons or a nuclear arms race. Our overall commitment to nuclear proliferation is there.
Q Were personally disappointed that you couldn't build a consensus on the nuclear deal and prevented the Left from walking away?
A: It was difficult. Their differences were ideological. They told us we can have the deal with France and Russia but not with the US. What could we do? I can't change their ideological perceptions. And with Russia and France it was not possible without NSG clearance.
Q. Who do you give the credit for the deal?
A. It was the strong determination of President Bush, and the firm commitment of the prime minister facilitated it. At IAEA we received massive support from our strategic allies Russia, France and UK. And at the NSG, apart from these three countries - Germany, South Africa, and Brazil - they all helped the deal. These countries have made very valuable contribution
Q What about the issue of fuel supply assurances that are being raised?
A. You have to judge it with the India-specific agreement and the 123 agreement where it has been mentioned. This is just the passport. The visa will be the bilateral agreement that we will sign. With US it is the 123 agreement we have to sign. With other countries we would have to sign separate bilateral agreements. This is the framework. Details will come when we actually buy. Those contracts will be determined in this framework.
Q. Did you ever feel that the deal will not materialise and the waiver may not happen?
A. That fear and suspense was there all along, but we were confident when these people were expressing their concern that India will not contribute to non-proliferation. Then I thought that I must re-assert that this is my commitment. I made the September 6 statement to say that you don't hold the sole agency of non-proliferation. India is talking of non-proliferation all along. Even after 1998 we have not forgotten our commitment to non-proliferation. In the last UNGA session we moved a resolution. Recently we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi's speech in the disarmament to reiterate our commitment to non proliferation.
Q. Has the nuclear deal boosted our chances of becoming the permanent member of the UN Security Council?
A. India always had a certain stature. All along India had stature but with our growing economy, technological competence besides prestige we have muscles. No doubt this enhanced stature will help, but India has its own claim to be the permanent member of the Security Council.
Q. Now even Pakistan wants a deal like this. What do you have to say?
A. Why should we object if others get it. It is for the international community to decide
Q. Asif Zardari has taken over as the president. Will that help in creating better ties with Pakistan?
A. I would like to watch. Action is much more important than words. After the new government took over, I went to Pakistan. I had discussions with them and there was no dearth of words
. After that, the ceasefire has been violated, infiltration has increased, the Kabul blasts occurred and the rhetoric has returned. We have sent them some concrete proposals on cross-border trade to start from October 1. If we get a positive response we will be too happy. Work is more important than words.
Q Nepal's prime minister Prachanda says he want to renegotiate the Indo-Nepal treat. Are you open to it?
A. Let us see what his proposal is. Why should we object? We have already told the earlier government that after they formulate such a proposal we can discuss it.