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Interview With Times Now of India

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Interview Via Telephone
Washington, DC
August 6, 2007

QUESTION: Welcome to Times Now, Mr. Nichols Burns.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: I’ll begin by asking you a direct question. Under the terms of the 123 Agreement can India conduct a nuclear test?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: First of all let me say it’s a pleasure to be on your program. We were very pleased to conclude the Civil Nuclear Agreement with the Indian government several weeks ago and pleased to have now released the text, and we hope very much that this can be a force for stability and peace between our two countries. I think you’ll see that the agreement is going to lead to a much bigger and broader relationship between the countries and it’s in the best interest of both countries. So we’re very pleased with this agreement and we hope very much it will receive the support of the Indian people. It will also need the support of the American Congress. In a couple of months, once India has established an agreement with the IAEA[1], and once the Nuclear Suppliers Group has acted, then it will come back to our Congress here and be voted on by the American Congress.

QUESTION: Let me ask you that question once again, Mr. Burns, because I don’t think I got a direct reply to that. Can India conduct a nuclear test under the terms of the 123 Agreement, sir?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The agreement doesn’t speak specifically to India’s rights. Of course India is a sovereign nation. The Indian government can make whatever decision it wishes to make. But the agreement does speak to the fact that if there is a nuclear test then of course under American law the future President at that time, should that happen, would have the right of return, as we say, the right to end the agreement. We’ve been clear about that for the past two years.

But I don’t think you ought to focus on that too much because it is a hypothetical issue and we are presuming that in the modern world most nuclear powers no longer test. There’s no longer a need to test. Certainly the United States is in that position and we would hope that could be the case with all countries in the future, that there would be no need for that kind of nuclear testing.

This --

QUESTION: But Mr. Burns --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: -- agreement is going to give substantial benefit to the Indian people as well as to the Indian government. It will help build a nuclear power sector in India. It will help you cope with the energy crisis that all of us are facing around the world.

QUESTION: Do you agree that somewhere in the future, Mr. Burns, that India may have to conduct a nuclear test given perhaps the environment that receives this [inaudible] in the subcontinent? Would you then say that the deal was against India doing that?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I guess I would answer, I would phrase your question a little differently. We would hope there could be peace and stability in South Asia. We believe there is reason to think that that can happen in the future. And the agreement is very specific on the right of return, as I’ve mentioned, but we would hope there would be no need for this kind of testing anywhere in the world by any country, including my own, in the future.

QUESTION: Given that this is such a burning issue with the opposition back home, let me ask you that question a slightly different way. What happens, Mr. Burns, if India does conduct a nuclear test?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, I learned long ago never to answer a hypothetical question. You’ve asked a hypothetical question. But I can tell you this, that the agreement is clear on the American legal obligations that would ensure, and we have protected those rights. But I think it’s also important to let you know that this agreement is a positive agreement and it presumes that our countries will be working together on a peaceful basis, and it assumes that this agreement in itself will be a positive force for stability in the region. So we are thinking more positively than I guess you are. We don’t know if this eventuality will ever arise. If it does, there are legal provisions in the text that of course were important to the United States. But I presume that we have at least a chance to develop a peaceful relationship and to see that kind of peaceful nuclear energy cooperation go forward. That’s why we entered these negotiations in the first place.

QUESTION: Is India assured of uninterrupted fuel supply under all conditions, Mr. Burns?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We were very keen to help the Indian government assure a continuous supply of nuclear fuel for its reactors. In March 2006 when President Bush visited New Delhi he committed to the Prime Minister a series of four specific assurances that would help the Indian government to assure the continuity of fuel supply. Those assurances have now been written in verbatim, into the 123 Agreement. So I think it does give, it should give the Indian government and Indian people confidence that they have a lot of countries around the world working to ensure the continuity of nuclear fuel.

QUESTION: A final question, Mr. Burns, there’s been a lot of opposition from lawmakers within the United States to this particular deal. In fact in Congress there are a growing number of legislators opposing this deal. Do you think Mr. Bush has the political capital as it stands today to push this deal through?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think you should remember that when the Hyde Act was passed in December of 2006 it was passed by an overwhelming majority of our Senate and House of Representatives, and that Democrats and Republicans voted in great numbers for that bill.

As the 123 Agreement is well within the framework of the Hyde Agreement and well within U.S. law, it conforms to U.S. law in every respect; I would hope very much that we would be able to build strong congressional support for another successful vote in the future.

I tend to be positive and optimistic about these matters. I’ve spent the last two weeks on Capitol Hill. There are some Members who are opposed to it. There are some members of our non-proliferation community that are arguing in our newspapers that this is not a good deal. But I do think we have a very broad base of support in the United States for a new relationship with India. We have a broad base of support in our business community. And I think we have an excellent chance of seeing this pass.

Now Congress will ask lots of questions, and that is Congress’ right to ask questions. We expect that. But I think we’ll give a good accounting of this negotiation and President Bush and Secretary of State Rice are convinced this agreement is in the interest of the United States, it’s a good agreement for India as well, and so I look forward to success here in the United States.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for speaking to us tonight, Mr. Burns, and for giving us this exclusive interview.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It’s a great pleasure. It’s a great pleasure. Thank you.

[1] International Atomic Energy Agency

Released on August 13, 2007

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