NEW DELHI: Six years down the lane, it almost evoked a sense of déjà vu. The logjam that held up the operationalisation of the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement was broken in the same last-minute initiative, a push from US President Barack Obama and determination on the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The chemistry between the two leaders and a little stroll around Hyderabad House lawns, followed by tea helped create the right atmospherics. Prior to that, it was a working lunch on Sunday, in the true sense of the term. “It was decided that we cannot operationalise the (123) agreement in a piecemeal manner, all the four (sticky) issues (liability, the flagging of fissile material, inspection and the export control regime) have to resolved at one go,” A top government official told Express.
And, that’s what happened, the two sides overcame the four hurdles pertaining to the liability of suppliers of nuclear reactors on the event of an accident and the tracking of the nuclear fuel supplied by the US as also the other countries, so as to ensure that it is not being used for military purposes and the others. “It had to be a bit of give and take,” the official added.
At the end of the day, the US agreed on “word of honour, India’s track record” as also the insurance pool that would lighten the liability clause. Soon enough, came the announcement the “deal is done’’.
President Obama admitted the logjam has been broken: “Today we achieved a breakthrough understanding on two issues that were holding up our ability to advance our civil nuclear cooperation and we are committed to moving towards full implementation.”
The civil nuke deal done, Prime Minister Modi said, at the joint press conference: “I’m pleased that six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with our laws (and) international legal obligations.”
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh later confirmed that the extended discussion between Obama and Modi which went on for over three hours, delivered the deal. “We’ve broken the logjam of the past few years, we’ve reached an agreement. The deal is done,” she confirmed.
Elaborating, she added that assurances were given to the US side on both the liability clause and tracking issue. “The liability provisions and administrative arrangements finalised under the 123 Act are consistent with our bilateral legal arrangements and contracts and IAEA safeguards and international laws and obligations,” she said.
The Indo-US civil nuclear agreement was in a limbo that past seven years, over these very sticky issues. Incidentally, the Liability Law which virtually froze the Indo-US civil nuke deal was passed by the India Parliament unanimously, with the BJP support and active participation. That is what is, primarily, watered down through the proposed creation of an insurance consortium.
The 2008 agreement was considered to be landmark deal for which former PM Manmohan Singh wagered his government and which in a way ended India’s nuclear pariah states, giving the country access to civilian nuclear technology. But all that paled as US concerns increased over India’s subsequent strict law on liability became overwhelming obstacle in operationalisation of the civil nuclear trade, worth billions, between the two countries.