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U.S.-India Civil-Nuclear Agreement and U.S.-India Relations

Evan Feigenbaum , Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
Interview with Viola Gienger of Bloomberg
Washington, DC
October 3, 2008

QUESTION: My two main questions, and I know we only have a short time, are, first of all, what are the next steps? Walk me through what happens now, what the Secretary is doing in India. There’s a – India still needs to sign their safeguards agreement, as I understand it. Does the 123 Agreement get signed before or after that, or does that – is that an issue?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Oh, God, you know, these issues keep coming up. It’s only been 48 hours, so we’re all exhausted from going through this process and everybody’s already focused on the signing.

QUESTION: Absolutely. Well, that’s – you know, like in my business, you’re only as good as tomorrow’s newspaper. (Laughter.)

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Well, no. The agreement is done. It’s – you know, we delivered it to the Hill. We worked our way through the IAEA Board of Governors and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It’s now been passed by Congress. So we’re done with the Agreement. We have a few of these bureaucratic steps, you know. Like I learned in my first grade civics class: when there’s a – when Congress passes a bill, the President has to sign it into law. So the President will have to sign [the bill] and we’ll have to sign the 123 Agreement. And then there are a couple of certifications that are embedded in the bill that the President will have to do before he signs it. So you know, so we’ll –

QUESTION: What are the certifications?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: There are two certifications in the bill. You can read them in the bill. But there’s one related to the NPT obligations of the United States. And there’s another one related to enrichment and reprocessing technology. And those are things the President will have to certify prior to entry into force of the agreement. And then there are a couple of other certifications that are in the bill that are related to licensing. You can see them in the bill. So anyway – so we’re in a happy mode. The Secretary had a celebratory kind of family event yesterday –

QUESTION: That’s right.

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: -- here in the Department. And so we’re looking forward to completing this next week.

QUESTION: Right. So what is the point of her trip this time? I mean –

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: To celebrate the U.S.-India partnership. See, now we’ve had this extraordinary run with India, where if you go back, I think, even just twelve, thirteen years, elite foreign policy opinion in the United States tended not to think that much about India at all. And when it did, it tended to focus on it really in the narrow context of South Asia. But what’s happened, I think, is really a sharp change in the relationship, but also a big change in the way that American foreign policy opinion has adapted itself to the emergence of India in the region, but globally as well.

So we have a relationship with India that’s advanced in a lot of ways. But we also have American strategy adapting itself essentially to the rise of India — first, as an economic player in the world, but second, as a potential partner on a whole variety of challenges around the globe. So whether it’s, you know, countering terrorism or dealing with HIV/AIDS or sustaining global growth or concluding a successful trade round, you know, we look to India as a potential partner.

I think, partly, it’s a recognition that we don’t live in 1948, much less 1958 or 1968. So if you think about the world – you know, even just the formal architecture of the international system – it’s kind of a Euro-Atlantic architecture that was established after the Second World War. And it doesn’t entirely reflect the power and capacity of the world of 2008 as opposed to the world of 1948.


DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: So I think what she’s really doing is – it’s a chance to celebrate the U.S.-India partnership and the civil nuclear agreement. As she said yesterday at the event, it’s [the civil-nuclear agreement] a big part of that, but it’s hardly the only part of that. And this is a chance really to take the relationship, I think, to the next level as we approach elections in each country.

QUESTION: Right. Yeah, and speaking of which, I mean, that kind of makes me wonder, so much of this was wrapped up in Prime Minister Singh on the Indian side. You know, he was the driving force and he put his government on the line for this. Governments change, especially in India. It’s a democracy. And how – obviously, the Department is very confident that in terms of safety and reliability of the partners, in this case, the reliability of India as a partner, that this will continue through in successive administrations, right?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Oh, yeah. I mean, what’s unique about this relationship, I think – and you see it reflected in the overwhelming bipartisan majorities of the vote – is that it’s a relationship that in a lot of ways has transcended partisanship, it’s transcended politics, it’s transcended changes of government.

So, you know, as I said to you at the beginning, you go back twelve or thirteen years in American foreign policy, and there tended not to be a lot of attention to India. And there was a lot of overhang from the period of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s. And really, in the last Administration, a lot of this transformation of U.S.-India relations really began. Then, you had the new governments in both countries: the Bush Administration and the transition to the UPA government there. And it not only survived the transition, but it really has thrived. And I think the President and the Prime Minister had a vision of a transformed U.S.-India relationship that – with the civ-nuke deal, but not just the civ-nuke deal, we’ve really realized that vision in a pretty short period of time.

So just as the last Administrations in both countries really set the table for these two governments to take it to the next level, you know, I think our hope and, in a lot of ways, our expectation – came up just in Congress this week – is that we have an election in a few weeks, India has to have an election by next May, so we, in a lot of ways, these two administrations have set the table for their next successors to take it to the next level, which is really to build a more global partnership.

QUESTION: My understanding is that one of the remaining hurdles really for American private companies, such as General Electric, especially, for example – and they have said this themselves – one of the hurdles for them still remains the liability issue, nuclear liability issue. Tell me what you know about that and what the Department is doing in that regard working with India.

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Well, it’s been a subject of discussion between the United States and India. Obviously, it’s very important to American companies. It’s also important to the Administration. And as Under Secretary Burns testified, we have a commitment from the Indian Government to adhere to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for –

QUESTION: But they haven’t signed it.

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: – Nuclear Damage. Well, they – you know, I mean, there are certain steps bureaucratically that they’re going to have to go through. But they’ve committed to us that they’re going to adhere to that Convention and the companies are aware of that.

QUESTION: Where -- when did we say that?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: This is in a Letter of Intent (inaudible). So the companies are aware of that. And I think –

QUESTION: And this was a letter of intent from India to –

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Well, this is a – we had a discussion. We’ve had a discussion between the United States and India about the nature of nuclear cooperation in the future. And so, you know, as Under Secretary Burns testified, and you can see it in the testimony, he talked a little bit about –

QUESTION: Was this – which one was –

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: This was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing recently. They talked a little bit about – we talked to the Indians a little bit about, you know, the scope and scale of that cooperation, but also about the importance of the liability regime. And so they’ve committed to us to adhere to the regime. So they’ll have to take the bureaucratic steps to do that, but we take that commitment very seriously and we welcome it and I know the companies do, too.

QUESTION: Bureaucratic steps to do that take –

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: I don’t know. I mean, I wouldn’t think it would take that long. I don’t know.


DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: I think we’ll see it in due course.

QUESTION: My understanding also – in fact, we reported out of New Delhi today that Ambassador Mulford said the Indians had submitted a – sort of a timeline of some sort for the coming steps. Let me see exactly how they worded that. He said, “We’ve been provided by the Indian Government with a proposed timetable, which includes arrangements for the signing of the 123 Agreement. We’re busy at work completing the steps necessary to be able to do that. But at this point, I can’t confirm when we can actually accomplish that.” And he also mentioned that they need to sign the safeguards agreement before the 123 Agreement can be activated.

Do you have an approximate time period for that?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: I hadn’t seen that, so I have nothing really to say about that. I mean, a safeguards agreement is important because they – they’ll have to bring the safeguards agreement into force with the IAEA, so –


DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: And that’s true for nuclear trade, I believe, with anybody, not just the United States.


DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: So I guess – we would trade with safeguarded facilities so, you know, we’ll be looking to them to take that –

QUESTION: And so the – is the liability issue and –

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: The liability issue is principally of importance to –

QUESTION: It’s part of that?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: No, the liability issue is principally of importance to companies.

QUESTION: Uh-huh, right.



DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: The safeguards agreement is something that India negotiated with the IAEA.


DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: But because we would be conducting nuclear trade with safeguarded facilities, they’ll need to bring the safeguards agreement into force.

QUESTION: Yeah. The Secretary said on at least several occasions in regards to India, you know, that she’s – that the Department is talking to India about making sure that U.S. companies have a level playing field. What does she mean by that?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Oh, I mean, I think – you know, as Burns testified, we think we have – I don’t know if he testified exactly in these words, but we think our companies are world class and have world class technology. And so, you know, obviously, I think it’s technology that ought to be taken very seriously by the Indians, and it’s clear that they do. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of negotiating these –

QUESTION: Right. So they have a reason to say that.

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: – a 123 Agreement with the United States.

QUESTION: So the idea of saying that and making that point repeatedly – I mean, I think before the Congress approved the 123 Agreement, part of what she was talking about is, you know, don’t rush ahead with the Russian companies and the French companies before we, you know, manage to get this sorted out here, get the 123 – the American agreement in place so that American companies can participate too. But I wonder if the liability issue was part of that.

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: We’ve had a discussion with India, as I said, about American companies’ involvement in India. And we have commitments from them, as Burns testified, to this floor of 10,000 megawatts-electrical [of] generating capacity, and also to adhere to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation. So, you know, we look forward to beginning nuclear cooperation between the United States and India.

QUESTION: Okay. I think that’s it. Is there anything else that we should be looking out for in the coming days or weeks from –

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: I think it’s – as I said, it’s been really a historic process. And in a lot of ways, it reflects the transformation of U.S.-India relations. But the relationship is bigger than just the civil nuclear deal. The Secretary herself said just yesterday, we have a really multidimensional relationship.

And what always strikes me about U.S.-India relations – I guess this is the last thing I’d say – is that it’s a very dynamic government-to-government relationship now. But it’s one of these relationships that moves forward in so many dimensions beyond the governmental dimension. We have 3 million Indian Americans. There are 84,000 Indian students in the United States, which is more than from any country in the world. It is one of our fastest-growing export markets.

So the really dynamic and exciting areas of the relationship are not so much the government-to-government; it’s all of these dynamic and exciting things that are happening between people and people, between citizens and citizens, students and scholars and business people. And you know, for the United States, I think those are our most mature relationships in a lot of ways. It’s the ones that move forward almost in spite of government.


DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: And you can’t say that about all of India’s relationships either. I mean, a lot of India’s relationships are very (inaudible) government-to-government. So it’s a very exciting time and I think – I’d say this is an absolutely transformational time in the U.S.-India relationship.

QUESTION: Right. And now that that’s done, what’s next? I mean –

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Like I said, I think it’s “going global” – it’s building a more global partnership to deal with a whole variety of global challenges. So whether it’s assuring success of the trading round, or it’s dealing with environmental degradation, or fighting poverty, or turning what we think are –

QUESTION: When you say going globally, you mean –


QUESTION: – U.S. and India working more closely together?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Together on a global basis and not just in South Asia.

QUESTION: One of the things that one of the senators made a point about during the debate – and this was someone who opposed the agreement – he was making a point that India doesn’t really have such a great record of voting with the United States in the UN General Assembly. He said that the percentage was something like less than 20 percent at the time.

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: I think – I mean, I would – I think you need to back up from that and understand the way in which India has evolved over the decades. I mean, you know, it’s true that Indian foreign policy is adapting itself since the end of the Cold War to some of the changes in the international system (inaudible).

QUESTION: No, he was talking about last year specifically –


QUESTION: He was quoting specifically for 2007.

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: I don’t know about that. But I know that we think that we’re building a more connected relationship with India regionally and on a global basis.

You know, we have a lot of common interests around the world, whether it’s in the Persian Gulf, or it’s in Africa, or it’s in East Asia, or it’s in other places. But turning common interests into complementary policies is not always an easy thing. It requires trust and a sustained level of effort. And so part of what’s made this Initiative so significant is that these two governments have worked together more closely than ever before. And so we have really, I think, a firm foundation to build a different kind of strategic partnership with this country.

That was the President’s vision and the Prime Minister’s vision to try to do it. As I said, it builds on a really bipartisan legacy that goes back into the 1990s. So we think this is the trajectory of U.S.-India relations. That’s why it’s historic. And we’re all on the right side of history here.

QUESTION: Yeah. Was – when Prime Minister Singh was here, like on the back end of the UNGA meeting, was that – was there a hope that the agreement would be ready to sign at that point?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Well, because the Senate hadn’t passed the bill so –

QUESTION: No, I know. (Laughter.) I was wondering of the possibility –

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Well, like I said, (inaudible) let Congress pass the bill, (inaudible).

QUESTION: All right. I think that’s it.


QUESTION: That’s all I’ve got. All right. I appreciate your taking the time.

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