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Interview With The Headlines Today (India Today)

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Maurya Sheraton Hotel
New Delhi, India
March 3, 2006

RAJ CHENGAPPA:  Nick Burns, welcome to the Headlines Today special interview.


RAJ CHENGAPPA: You have got a great deal going apparently, just signed it.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It's a big deal. I think we are all very pleased at the President's visit yesterday, the warm reception from the Indian government, from the President of India, from the Prime Minister and from the Indian people and we feel we have accomplished something historic.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: But it is not over as yet. You still have to get the U.S. Congress to amend its laws. You are confident of that? Is there going to be problems?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think that there is going to be a great debate in Congress and obviously only Congress can make a decision to change U.S. law but we are confident that this deal with India is a good one for both countries. Certainly for my country as well as for India, so I hope we can be persuasive and I think we can be and then after that we will have to go to the nuclear suppliers group and convince 34 countries that international practice should be changed. So we are not out of the woods yet and it's going to require I think some joint collaboration by India and the United States to see this through to victory.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: But one of the things that the President said before he arrived in India is that there should be a credible and defensible plan that India is offering in terms of its civilian and military reactors. You have got that? You think you will be able to convince the Congress that this is the best way to go?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think so because you know India has committed under this plan to put the majority of its nuclear reactors under international safeguards its also committed that in the future as India builds nuclear power plants all of the civilian thermal reactors and all the civilian breeder reactors, all of them, will come under safeguards. That's quite significant. India has agreed that the safeguards regime should be permanent which was very important. He will sign an additional protocol and all this I think for many of your viewers is technical. But I think by now it's been so much publicity all Indians are expert.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: Well, we are getting to know what fast breeders are…

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, that's for sure.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: And it is not about population.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know the good thing about any agreement that is successful requires that both countries benefit from it. There is no question that India is going to benefit. India is going to emerge from its isolation of the last 30 years at least in the nuclear realm and be able to rejoin the international non-proliferation mainstream. The United States….

RAJ CHENGAPPA: Can I just sort of -- you know -- watching the negotiation, we will come back to that, but watching the negotiation is like you know watching a one-day cricket match. It was like right down to the wire, you know, you never knew till the end whether the deal was on or not. What was the turning point?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It felt like a five-day test match to me. But I think the turning point was frankly, the fact that we felt that the Indian government wanted to see this through the end. We trust very much our interlocutors and the Indian government, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and the National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, we have a bond with them and I think that…

RAJ CHENGAPPA: That's 8 months of negotiation.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Eight months of negotiation. I was here in India 5 times. Shyam Saran came to the United States I think 3 times. We met in Europe. So there was a lot of discussion. Both of us knew, that in order to achieve something historic, you have to be bold and the Prime Minister and the President were bold. They set out the vision and it was our job to fulfill that vision.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: What was President Bush telling you? I mean you know through the specially when he landed in Delhi and things were still not complete. What was your President's approach?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well I think the approach, his approach; the approach of our government was that we wanted to sign the deal, if it was a good deal. We weren't willing to have a deal at any cost. So we were willing to walk away without one, but happily, we were able to make the final negotiations. We met very late first evening at the Prime Minster's office and then again the following morning at Hyderabad house. We reached the agreement and I think it is going to stand the test of time. I hope we will get the support of Congress and I think we have a very good short at international support. You know Mohammad El Baradei, the Director General of the IAEA, issued a very supportive statement, Tony Blair, Jacque Chirac…

RAJ CHENGAPPA: (inaudible). But we still need to sort of get the Congress and how quickly you think the vote would be?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think it may take some time. There is going to be a debate. There has to be legislation introduced to overturn the U.S. law, the Atomic Energy Act that prohibits American trade with India on nuclear materials. I think it may take several months our legislative process doesn't always work as quickly as one would hope. But it is a very serious issue and Congress certainly has a right to look at this.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: You have a lot of resistance in the United States. I mean you have the Ayatollahs of proliferation go after this deal. You have had, of course, a lot of representatives of Congress also not seem to be, you know, happy with what's going on and the basic argument is that by entering, you know, into an agreement with India specifically, you are going to destabilize the entire Non-Proliferation Treaty the regime that it was set and by making exception to one country, a hundred and eighty countries and that great architecture that was set up over the last 40 years is going to be impacted. How you are going to tell them that this is not true?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we obviously don't agree. We think that India is unique case. We don't see that any other country should have the same kind of benefits India of course because of the greatness of the country, its size, because of the fact that it has played by the rules. India has not proliferated its nuclear technology over the last 30 years. India and I pointed this out to many people when they try to compare India to Iran or North Korea, that's ludicrous. On the one hand India is a democratic state. It's a great country. It's a peaceful country. It is a country that wants, of course, to preserve a nuclear balance in the world and does not want to see nuclear weapons used. On the other hand you have North Korea, which by anyone's definition is an outlaw state. And then you have Iran, an autocracy, a country that has withheld information from the IAEA for 18 years and a country now trying to build a nuclear weapons capability with no international oversight. So I don't think the comparison is valid and I don't think it will wash and I think the convincing argument for this deal are going to win the day.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: We have had our own critics as well and you have seen that on the streets the left parties have protested. There have been difficulties as well among our own nuclear hard liners -- the 'Nuclear Maharaja's' as we call them. One of the fears was that the deal is going to cap India's strategic program that in some way this is a neat little ploy by America to then hold us back, really restrain us, and not get us beyond what we have at the moment. Is this something that is really what America is trying to do?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, of course not. What we are trying to do is to bring India into, back into, the international non-proliferation mainstream. So the IAEA is now going to place safeguards on the majority of India's nuclear facilities. India is going to put all of its future civilian breeder and thermal reactors under safeguards. These are substantial benefits for all of us around the world who want to see the maintenance of a non-proliferation regime so we don't accept that argument. We understand that in any great democracy there will be many different voices. There are in my country, there are in your country, that's not a surprise. But I think that the great majority of people I would hope here in India will see the benefits of this deal. You know, as we look towards the future in the 21st century, India cannot be a country that's continually isolated from the rest of the world in this fear. India is too greater country to be isolated. It has to be part of the system. And of course the system itself is imperfect. And we had a basic choice. We could have preserved the sanctity of the regimes in the 1960s and isolated India or we could have chosen to engage India. We chose the ladder it was the right choice and we are convinced that we are on the right path.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: Were you surprised by the Prime Minister's announcement in Parliament - before the deal was concluded that you know, we are going to put 65 percent of the reactors out in the civilian side and the 35 percent in the…

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we knew that the Prime Minister had an obligation to brief the parliament. We certainly knew that there was tremendous interest in India in anticipation of the President's visit about this particular arrangement and so it stood to reason that the Prime Minister would address parliament and give parliament a sense of how he was going to proceed.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: We were talking about the separation plan.


RAJ CHENGAPPA: Just before we left and one of the issues you had mentioned was the fast breeder reactor and you said India has agreed to put its future fast breeder reactors under the civilian side. That does not seems to be what the Prime Minister had said. He seemed to indicate that the fast breeder program is out of this whole thing; it is not going to be sort of part of any separation. What's the truth?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I want to be clear. India has made the following commitment: that all of its future civilian fast breeder reactors and thermal reactors will be put under safeguards and that does not deny India the right to use nuclear power whether its thermal or fast breeder to serve the military purposes. India has that right; there is a space in the agreement for that. But if a reactor is going to be classified 'civilian' then it is going to come under safeguards and that was one of the significant commitments made by the Indian government.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: Why was there so much fuss about the fast breeder reactor? We have our own atomic energy chief say that America is changing the goal posts and the fast breeder reactor should be put... Was that really the make or break or what was the…?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know it is a long complex, rather difficult negotiation. There were three or four big issues, all of them were interlocking and of course in an agreement like this you really can't solve any one issue until all of them are resolved and so that's what took so long.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: But what was the concern about the fast breeder, keeping it into the civilian side?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I think India is going to derive many benefits from this deal. But along with the benefits, come responsibilities and if India is to reenter the international order regime for nuclear weapons and nuclear power then India has to, of course, meet these responsibilities. One of the responsibilities is as you open up your system. The IAEA comes in and places safeguards, that mainly means inspections. It means that people will come, that your facilities will be transparent for the first time since 1974, that world will understand what's going on in these facilities and of course, India, I am sure has nothing to hide. And India will play by the rules but that was…the fast breeders were important along with the thermal reactors, along with the idea of permanent safeguards because that would give some clarity to the international community of what was being agreed.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: Now the other sticky point apparently was the what is called the 'ghost of Tarapur' where there was a feeling among the Indian side that the Tarapur nuclear plant which America has thus built and then once we exploded the nuclear device in 1974 didn't, you know, broke away from the agreement and didn't agree to supply fuel and one of the concerns was we sign up with you all and at some later point we have a disagreement, do something, and all those reactors that were put under safeguards we don't get fuel at all, how do you get over that problem?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, I don't think that is going to be a problem because if U.S. law changes, if international law changes, there is a world market for nuclear fuel. And that will be, frankly, a mundane affair, you will order the fuel, your government will, your nuclear facilities will, the fuel will come, there probably be a competitive bidding war for India's business and the United States has assured India that we will take extraordinary efforts try to help insure fuel supply, we are certainly willing to go with India to the IAEA to see if special multilateral arrangements can be made. We want to have bilateral arrangements as well in fact the U.S. did helped to build Tarapur and the U.S. would be happy to supply fuel for Tarapur once our law is changed we have made that commitment to the Indian government.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: So how did you get out in terms of the insurance what are the guarantees you have given that ensure India that look such a situation won't arise. How did you work that sort of system out?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think it is difficult to say there are absolute guarantees, but certainly if India if the law has changed in my country and around the world, India is not going to have a problem. Because we assume that India will be observant of all of the responsibilities and guidelines that it has and if that's the case and I assume it is going to be the case, then supply is going to be a rather normal matter that high policy makers won't have to worry about. As they have to date, because of the fact that India is been isolated and I think, Raj, this is the great benefit of the deal for India. India has had to always worry about how the rest of the world will react, where is the fuel is going to come from? This deal should fix that. But along with it India comes into the international regime becomes a party along with the U.S. and Russia and France and other countries to the major international order that has regulated trade in nuclear material that's going to be positive.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: Now I think that's an interesting point looking ahead a bit. Now that the deal is done we hope that the U.S. Congress would do what it has to do to amend the law. How does the future look? What would this deal do to the Indian nuclear power industry?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we understand that India is growing, that your population will grow, your economy is growing, you have enormous energy needs it's your intention to create a much larger nuclear power system. To do that, you are going to benefit from international investment and technology transfer and you got to rid yourselves of these legal restrictions before you can achieve that benefit. That's what the deal is going to do. And hopefully, I would expect that the great majority of growth in nuclear industry will not be in your strategic program. It will be in the civil power sector. And I think that Indians should understand here is how these safeguards work: if one of your reactors is safeguarded by the IAEA then international investment, international technology is possible if it is not safeguarded, if you keep it for the strategic program, there is no possibility of international assistance so I think the incentive, is going to be for India to open as many of its facilities to international inspection as possible because there you get the benefit.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: What does the deal mean to the World? You know, in terms of how changes yesterday President Bush talked of this that we have to think differently, you know, we have to take the new challenges and you know come out with different solutions. How does this change the world perspective on nuclear stuff?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think actually this deal highly symbolic of something bigger. And that is the emergence of India as a great power in the world and the emergence of the strategic relationship between India and the United States. We are fast friends, we are much closer aligned strategically then we ever have been before since 1947 and in a lot of ways it was obvious that the visit of President Bush received a lot of attention and the biggest issue concerning that visit was the nuclear issue. In fact, what has received very little attention is the initiative on agriculture, $100 million dollar initiative to create a second green revolution in India the United States wants to help with that, a new science and technology project that will stimulate further scientific research between us, all of the energy and student exchanges and space cooperation proposals that we have put forward over the last 2 days. There is a lot going on.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: Have you signed that by the way? To put up a sort of, along with our orbiter to the moon one of your…

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The space launch agreement? No, we did not sign the space launch agreement. We have not finished those negotiations. That is further work. More homework for us in future.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: That's one of the areas high technology, you have constructed an entire technology, denial regime after what we did in Pokhran. Now how is that going to be lifted firstly and what does that mean for Indian high technology?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I want to want to make clear that by this initiative the United States and other countries of the world are not recognizing India as a nuclear weapons power. What we are recognizing is the fact that India needs to have a larger civil, peaceful nuclear energy sector. That you have got enormous energy needs. That your population is going to require greater electricity, greater power to run businesses. To run homes and light the streets and so we would expect to see tremendous growth in your nuclear power sector. And that will be good for your country and we hope that we can regulate this and implement it in such a way that it's going to be good for both sides.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: Now one of the sticky issues has always been this business of dual use technology that you know any technology you have sold to India, we could also use it for a missile and strategic program. Is that going to go now? Are we going to see cooperation, high tech which sort of India needs, others are always doing the self reliance business, it is costly and slows up our progress, is that going to change?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we are still not going to be able to sell any technology that would be of any use in India's military program, the nuclear weapons program, that will be off limits. But we can sell technology that we know it be devoted exclusively to the civilian side. And that's one of the virtues of oversight, of these IAEA inspection regimes. That they would be a way to regulate that, you have a window into the Indian nuclear program, you will be able to see what was possible to achieve. So in the civilian side, yes. On the military side, no, it will be continued to be restricted.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: How do you see the situation playing out in the next couple of months? What can we look forward to?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think you should expect to see a continuous strengthening of our relationship between our two countries.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: We should not loose the momentum you're saying?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We shouldn't loose the momentum, no and I think the visit of President Bush has given us a lot of momentum and lot of spirit in this relationship. We have to work together to deny Iran nuclear weapons. We have to work together to stabilize Afghanistan. We have to work together to hope that we can help the Bangladeshi government face this wave of insurgency and bombings to try to bring peace to Sri Lanka and try to bring democracy back to Nepal. There is a lot of work to do.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: Last question, do you think there will be a war with Iran over its nuclear program?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think we are committed to a diplomatic track, but we are also committed to see that Iran is denied nuclear weapons and we hope that India and other countries of the world will apply some diplomatic pressure to Iran to convince it not to seek nuclear weapons. It is a highly unstable and frankly it is not a very constructive state. It doesn't deserve to have nuclear weapons.

RAJ CHENGAPPA: Thanks very much.

Released on March 3, 2006

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