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Obama's report on N-deal to Congress fuels speculation

Last updated on: July 21, 2009 17:04 IST

Hardly a couple of hours after United States and India reached an End Use Monitoring Agreement in New Delhi during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit, President Barack Obama submitted a report to the US Congress on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, fuelling speculation of a quid pro quo between the EUM accord and the expeditious implementation of the nuclear agreement.

Senior administration sources denied there was any link, asserting to that 'there is absolutely no quid pro quo', and that 'both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear US is committed to the full implementation of the civilian nuclear agreement'. They argued that the report submitted to the Congress 'is simply part of the reporting process under the terms of the legislation'.

The speculation had been raised following a special briefing by the newly minted assistant secretary of state for public affairs Philip J Crowley -- erstwhile National Security Council spokesman during the Clinton Administration -- who had told the media on the eve of Clinton's arrival in India that the EUM agreement was 'part of the fulfilment of an important initiative that India and the US have signed in the area of nuclear cooperation'.

Crowley, briefing journalists at the Foreign Press Centre on July 17, a few hours before Clinton landed in Mumbai predicted that he was 'sure that this will be substantial area of discussion (between Clinton and Indian officials) and the various leaders will reflect on the progress that is made in terms of both fulfilling the initiative and its various components'.

Earlier, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robert Blake, also briefing on Clinton's India visit, had expressed confidence that the EUM agreement would be signed between Clinton and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna on July 20 in New Delhi.

When he was pushed if it were a done deal, Blake said, "I am not saying it will definitely happen, but it's on the table."

The powerful American defence industrial complex and the business lobby led by the US-India Business Council had strongly lobbied the Administration and the Congress, calling on them to push the Indians into agreeing to the EUM agreement and also to make available the sites for US civilian nuclear reactors.

Blake, before he left with Clinton, said: "The End Use Monitoring is the only one that's on the table at the moment." But he acknowledged that the US was hopeful that 'we will be in a position to be able to announce publicly those two sites where US companies can have exclusive rights to locate reactors and sell reactors to the Indians."

Interestingly, the EUM agreement, although having to do with the sale of sophisticated military equipment and cutting-edge high technology, was signed by Clinton and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and not by Defence Minister A K Antony, who had earlier been expected to sign the accord when US National Security Adviser Retd Gen James Jones had visited New Delhi recently and held discussions with Antony, among others.

Thus, instead of the agreement being signed between the Pentagon and the Indian Defence Ministry, it was a high-profile signing between the Obama Administration's top diplomat from the State Department and her diplomatic vis-a-vis in the Indian External Affairs ministry.

Although, US Administration officials denied that there was any quid-pro-quo involved, the report submitted by Obama to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees now could envisage the implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal process to move forward, since it contained classified information about presidential determinations required under the 123 Agreement regarding India's nuclear facilities and New Delhi's non-proliferation actions.

In this regard, later this month, US and Indian negotiators will meet in Vienna to carry the process forward in terms of the 'arrangements and procedures' for US consent for Indian reprocessing of American nuclear fuel.

This negotiation, under the terms of the 123 Agreement has to be completed within a year after it begins.

The report submitted by Obama on Monday -- which is the first one given to the US Congress by a President as required by the legislation signed into law last October by then President George W Bush, is one in a series of determinations required to be provided to lawmakers on the implementation of the Act, which details India's actions from IAEA safeguards to other non-proliferation commitments.

Obama, in his missive to Senators John F Kerry and Richard Lugar, the chairman and ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Howard Berman and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking GOP member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said: 'I am pleased to transmit to you a report required by Section 104(8) of the Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Cooperation Act of 2006, as amended by Section 105 of the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-proliferation Enhancement Act of 2008.'

He said, 'The report covers the period October 4,2008, to June 30,2009. It provides an update on US-India civil nuclear cooperation and developments that relate to India's nuclear related activities.'

Obama also said in his letter that 'classified information associated with these issues has been provided in a separate classified annex.'

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC