New Delhi: The Indo-US civil nuclear deal is in the news once again after US President George W Bush commented that fuel supply assurances to India are not legally binding. Bush's remark has even intrigued New Delhi with the Opposition raising doubts once again.
New Delhi is reiterating that only the 123 Agreement binds them.
But the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government is on the backfoot again with the Left and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accusing it of misleading India on the nuclear deal with the US.
The fresh controversy has been triggered by President Bush's statement to Congress that Washington was not legally bound to ensure uninterrupted fuel to Indian reactors.
“The assurance of uninterrupted supply of fissile material uranium is the biggest question mark that has come. The other big question mark relates to testing,” senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh remarked.
Along with Jaswant Singh, the government is also wondering. On the other hand top Indian negotiators maintain the 123 Agreement does lay down in law the US' responsibility on fuel supply guarantees.
And yet, the government is not challenging Washington on its interpretation of mutually agreed upon language.
“I will not say anything. If anything has to be said, it will be said by my office,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.
While the US will be quietly asked to explain, top sources concede Bush's comments are likely driven by domestic political compulsions. Bush, they say, is attempting to prevent killer amendments from being floated by Congressmen opposed to the deal.
Interestingly, fuel supplies have become an issue for the second time in over a week. The State Department's letter to the Congress, leaked by Congressman Howard Berman suggested that the US government would block fuel to India if it tested.
That too went against India's understanding prompting National Security Advisor MK Narayanan to seek a clarification through CNN-IBN.
“We will ask then how do the replies fit in with what has been agreed,” Narayanan replied.
The US has since said it will be guided by the language in the 123 Agreement but whether Washington is double crossing New Delhi or shadow boxing with the Congress will only be known in the months ahead.
Meanwhile, New Delhi has reacted to President Bush's statement by saying, “The India-US 123 Agreement is a public document. The rights and obligations of both India and the US are clearly spelt out. Once this agreement is in force it becomes a legal document in accordance with International Law and the Law of Treaties.”
India also added that it will be guided only by the 123 Agreement when it comes to civil nuclear cooperation.
(With inputs from Suchi Yadav and Divyamanu Chaudhary)