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U.S.-India Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Roundtable With South Asian Journalists
Washington, DC
August 3, 2007

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: (Inaudible) -- I’ve been in touch with my colleague, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon. We’ve been very pleased after the announcement of the agreement because I think we’re going to attract the support of many countries around the world.

The situation here is that we will obviously hope that India can negotiate in the quickest possible time an IAEA* Safeguards Agreement. That’s one step that needs to be taken.

The second step that needs to be taken is the Nuclear Suppliers Group should meet in the autumn and the United States will be very active in supporting the effort of the Indian government to have the Nuclear Suppliers Group change international policy to allow for the sale of nuclear technology and fuel to India.

Then when that happens, when the Nuclear Suppliers Group acts, then we will formally ask the United States Congress to vote a final time to approve the entire process.

We hope very much that we can see a repeat of the strong bipartisan support among Democrats and Republicans in our country in favor of this agreement. We have been very active in meeting with Members of Congress. I have with the Senate and House over the last two weeks to explain the agreement and to seek their support. I’m encouraged by the many many people who have come out in support of this including our business community, the United States business community, as well as the Indian American community. I think this agreement is a very important one because it has the potential to help us build a much greater partnership with India. I think that’s how the Indian government sees it too.

So I’m happy to talk about any aspect of this. I just wanted to say those few words by way of introduction.

QUESTION: Is there a timeline you can tell us broadly, when NSG meets and when do you expect to put it through Congress?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well our hope would be—

QUESTION: Is it autumn?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Our hope would be that the IAEA Safeguards Agreement and the Nuclear Suppliers Group action could be accomplished this autumn. That would allow our administration to deliver the agreement to the Congress by say November or December and ask for action in this calendar year.

Obviously this is not a sure path because it depends on the speed by which the Indian government can move with the IAEA and the NSG*. But the U.S. intends to be very supportive of India at the NSG meeting. In effect we will help to explain what the agreement is all about and to convince the other countries that it’s really in the best international interest that international action be taken on India commensurate to what the United States will have done bilaterally.

QUESTION: Is there a scheduled date for NSG to meet? Or is it something that has to --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There are NSG meetings scheduled, but see the IAEA agreement has to be done first. So we would not be averse to calling a special meeting of the NSG should that be necessary because we feel so strongly that this question of India is so important for the overall agreement.

QUESTION: Nick, I’d like to have a little clarification from you. You have been quoted in an interview yesterday with the Council on Foreign Relations. This is the question that was asked to you. “Some say that under the deal if India holds a nuclear weapons test the U.S. would delay its own nuclear fuel supplies to India, but the U.S. would help India find other sources of fuel which violates the spirit of the Hyde Act. What do you say to those concerns?”

Your answer was --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I know what my answer was --

QUESTION: -- “That’s absolutely false.”

Now what do you mean by absolutely false, because there are many parts to the question. What is that, that is absolutely false?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: “Which violates the spirit of the Hyde Act,” that’s absolutely false.

The U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement does not violate the spirit or the letter of the Hyde Act. We took great care in negotiating this agreement, I took great care as the lead United States negotiator, to make sure that everything we agreed to conformed to American law and conformed to the Hyde Act. In the particular case of this hypothetical example, that is the case. That we are adhering to U.S. law, as we should, and to the Hyde Act. Therefore the so-called right of return which is a very important American legal obligation embedded in the Atomic Energy Act, has been preserved in the 123 Agreement.

It is also true that, you know, these are hypothetical situations that people are asking questions about. We hope, and we expect and hope that the future will be one of India and the United States adhering to our commitments to each other. We fully expect that both governments will do that. We hope and expect that there will be no reason for nuclear tests in the future. We think what the future will really be about is civilian nuclear cooperation. But if one is asked a hypothetical question then one has to give an answer. That’s why I answered the question the way that I did.

QUESTION: No, I was (inaudible) worried, not worried, I was a little bit curious because there are different aspects to this question.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, it was the allegations --

QUESTION: One is would U.S. help India find other sources of fuel.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, it was a response to the allegation that we had somehow violated the spirit of the Hyde Act. That’s what I was responding to.

Now, in the nuclear fuel assurances, what we did in the 123 Agreement, we took the four specific fuel assurances that President Bush made to Prime Minister Singh on March 2, 2006, and we wrote them verbatim into the Hyde Act.*. You’ll find them there today if you look through the document. Those are assurances by our government to the government of India that we will, as its partner, help it to provide for a continuous supply of nuclear fuel to its power reactors. For instance, one of the assurances which you see in the document is that we would help India create a multilateral reserve of fuel. We’ve suggested India could work with the International Atomic Energy Agency, for instance. This makes sense because any country is going to want to have a continuous supply of fuel to power reactors. That’s true of my own country. But that doesn’t obviate the fact that both of us also have laws that we need to live up to. India does and the United States does. One of our laws is the Atomic Energy Act, and we have preserved the ability of any future President to fulfill his or her legal obligations under the Atomic Energy Act.

QUESTION: Do you foresee problems ahead if, for example, the U.S. discontinues supply? And at the same time you’re trying to work with other countries to keep the supply going?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I was a spokesman at the State Department ten years ago and I learned a very valuable lesson: never answer a hypothetical question. It’s hard to deal in hypotheticals because they are very far from the reality of the situation.

The reality is that India is not in a situation where it is currently testing. India is a country that’s living up to its commitments. India is a country that’s just passed an export control law in 2005 which is a very important addition to its national legislation. And so we expect that the future is not going to be dealing with these hypothetical contingencies, it’s going to be dealing with constructing power plants and helping India deal with its energy deficit.

But as lawyers are involved in any agreement, of course you do plan for the worst case. And we had planned for the worst case. I think the agreement is very clear that the right of return is protected.

But we assume, we hope very much that that will never be necessary because we hope that the conditions that would prompt the right of return will not materialize. We hope instead we’ll be engaged in civil nuclear cooperation in the future.

QUESTION: But the agreement also says, Ambassador, that despite these arrangements the disruption of fuel supplies to India occurs, the United States and India would jointly convene a group of friendly supplier countries to include --


QUESTION: So how do you interpret these two things?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: This is not a new issue. This is a commitment from March 2, 2006, so it’s a year and a half old. And we want to stand by the commitment.

If you look ahead and you try to envision what would constitute a discontinuity of supply, how would that happen? There are four or five or six ways that could happen, and only one of them has to deal with a nuclear test.

If somehow supply for environmental reasons or political reasons is discontinued to India, then of course, the United States, India has the benefit of working with the United States and other countries in the construction of a strategic fuel supply reserve that can help it if there is discontinuity. I think those are probably more likely scenarios than the one you’re asking about, which is nuclear testing.

If there is a nuclear test, then American law says that the President of the United States would then have to decide whether or not to ask for the fuel and technology back. He or she would have that option. We have preserved that legal right in our law for the American President. But it is a choice. It’s not automatic. The President at the time would have to decide whether or not that was the right policy choice, but we have preserved that choice. So, I hope that clarifies the situation.

When we negotiated that provision with the Indian government, we had in mind four or five other types of disruptions that could occur and we wanted to be supportive of the Indian government and how to deal with those, but if it’s nuclear testing, well then the United States has a legal obligation, or at least a legal opportunity, to act and that right has been preserved.

QUESTION: If this right of return is exercised, what exactly can the U.S. ask for? What do you get back?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I told you I wasn’t going to answer hypothetical --

QUESTION: No but, how does it work?

QUESTION: The whole document deals with hypothetical situations, there are so many hypothetical --

QUESTION: How does this work?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It’s an agreement. It’s an agreement that has to look at all sorts of eventualities. It’s very hard to say, without knowing the specifics of what happened and when it happened and how it happened and why it happened, it’s very difficult to answer a question about what one would do. But the legal right to do something has been protected. And that was very well understood by the Indian side in these negotiations, and it doesn’t represent any kind of surprise to any one of the Indians.

QUESTION: You’ve got the compensation factored in, and what do you compensate for? The spent fuel? The used fuel? Everything you take --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Let’s put it this way. I’d rather answer the question positively.

What we hope will happen when nuclear trade starts is that American companies will be able to provide nuclear reactor designs and nuclear technologies and nuclear fuel to Indian power plant construction and power plant operation. So those are the kinds of things that we would be trading in our new nuclear trade, selling to the Indian government.

QUESTION: I was wondering what went into deciding the time spent on the agreement, 14 versus 10. Is that a -- this broad cycle of nuclear reactor?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It’s normal in this kind of thing. We have very few, we don’t have civil nuclear agreements with many countries in the world, and we certainly don’t have reprocessing agreements with many countries. Reprocessing I think we have with Japan and EURATOM, you know the European Atomic Energy Agency.

This was a big step by the United States to agree to reprocessing consent rights. We were assured that it was the right step when we agreed with the Indians that as a first order they would construct a new state of the art reprocessing facility that would be fully safeguarded by the IAEA. And second, there would be the subsequent arrangements and procedures that would be negotiated and agreed to that would essentially underwrite the rules of how we would carry out reprocessing. With those two in place, the new reprocessing facility, number one; and the arrangements and procedures, number two; we felt that conferring consent rights, reprocessing consent rights was the right decision. We know that it’s something that’s important to India because it will allow India to deal with the problem that it’s had of what to do with spent fuel. So I think this was a key part of the negotiations.

For us, as we approach the end game of negotiations over the last several months, this reprocessing issue was by far the largest issue. We spent the most time on this issue. And we took great care in establishing a way to resolve it that would meet the interests of both countries.

QUESTION: Is this start date of actual trade, is that dependent on when this facility is constructed and working?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: When we get to the end of the process and Congress votes on the 123 Agreement, should that vote be successful and we hope it will be, then once that is done then we can begin nuclear trade between India and the United States.

The reprocessing could not begin at that time because it’s dependent on the construction of the new Indian reprocessing facility and safeguarded by the IAEA and by the negotiation of these arrangements and procedures. So that might take a little bit more time.

But the critical thing is, I think for the Indian government as well as for us, is that we’ve made the decision and made the commitment. We’ve actually spent a lot of time thinking through how we would do it, how we would carry it out. So I think we’ve surmounted the tallest mountain in these negotiations which was how to handle the processing issue. This really bedeviled the negotiations for the last six months. It was a very difficult conceptual problem, to figure out how one could do it with the type of safeguards that need to be in place. Because our agreement with Japan runs to I think 400 pages, on reprocessing. Our agreement with EURATOM is -- They’re very complex agreements. So we wanted to be sure that we had the necessary protected measures in place to take this step because, you know, we haven’t conferred reprocessing rights on Russia and we haven’t on China, but we do with India.

QUESTION: So as far as reprocessing is concerned, the ball is in the Indian court?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It’s in both of our courts. It’s a mutual responsibility. The Indians have to develop the facility, but we both together have to agree on the arrangements and procedures. So I think it’s a mutual responsibility.

We’re partners with India. This is not an antagonistic relationship. We’re friends. We work very closely together. My goodness, we’ve negotiated for two years and two days, I did, with Shyam Saran and Shankar Menon. So we have a sense that we’re responsible for the agreement together. We need to carry it forward together. I just wanted to say today, the day we release the text, we’re very pleased by this agreement. It’s in our unqualified national interest. We believe it’s in India’s too. We’re optimistic that we’re going to be able to now go through the next couple of steps towards a final, final vote in the U.S. Congress.

QUESTION: You mentioned about contingency plans. I’m talking the short term plans. If there are problems with the IAEA, and like you mentioned about this, if there’s a delay then you’ll call for a special meeting with the NSG. Then --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It may require more than one meeting. I think there’s a regularly scheduled meeting this autumn of the NSG. If it’s not possible to complete the discussions on India we would certainly want to have a second meeting.

QUESTION: Are there any procedures for calling a special meeting of the NSG?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There are. Any member can call a special meeting. So we are in a position, we are to call.

QUESTION: Would you have to give them notice, time period?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yeah, sure we’d have to give them notice. There are 45 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, but there is a procedure for calling extraordinary meetings and should we not be able to complete our agreement in one meeting we would certainly consider a second meeting.

QUESTION: What about the--

You asked about the timetable. That’s to quicken the timetable. We’d like to get this back to the Congress in 2007. That’s our goal, by the end of 2007.

QUESTION: But the NSG meeting has to follow the IAEA?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, because the NSG members are going to want to see that Mohammed Al Baradei has negotiated a safeguards agreement with the Indian government, with Dr. Kakodkar, and that’s why the sequencing is the way it is. They’ll want to look at it, study it, and know that the IAEA has given its blessing to the India agreement.

QUESTION: But you said you will help India in the NSG. What about the IAEA?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, the IAEA agreement is a bilateral agreement between the Indian government and Vienna, the IAEA itself. So I don’t think the Indian government requires our assistance.

The NSG is very different. Because that’s a multilateral organization of which the United States is one of the leading members. So we consider ourselves in essence to be India’s sherpa at that meeting. We are pledged, we pledged to the Indian government we’d make every effort to have a clean, positive decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and we’re India’s partner. So of course we will do everything we can to support the Indian application at the NSG.

QUESTION: Nick, a political question. You seem to be very confident that this agreement will get by Congress. You want to submit it by the end of this year and you hope the Congress will pass it in the same way it passed the Hyde Act last year. But there are a lot of people who seem to think that this administration doesn’t have the full legal muscle on Capitol Hill and that next year will be the last year of this presidency. And, um --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: He will be President for 20 days in 2008.

QUESTION: Okay alright, alright, okay. You’ve got one year and 20 days then.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: So, okay. I think I get the drift of your question.

What we have going for us is that we’ve already spent nearly all of 2006 debating this agreement in the U.S. Congress and in Washington. As you know, the administration put this to the Congress in April of 2006. Secretary Rice and I both testified multiple times. We’ve had conversations with every member of the Senate, nearly every member of the House, and the Congress voted by overwhelming margins, Democrats and Republicans, for the Hyde Act. The test for us was: could we return to the Congress a 123 Agreement that was within the Hyde Act that did not go outside the bounds, and that satisfied and honored U.S. law? We have done that. We have done that.

So I cannot predict what Congress will do. I am operating on the presumption that we need to earn the support of Congress and that we need to brief Congress and convince them this is the right thing. But I hope if the Hyde Act is prologue, I hope very much that we’ll have strong support from Congress at the end of the process and it would be, I hope it will be bipartisan too.

QUESTION: I was wondering how has India’s relationship with Iran made things difficult for you when it comes to briefing members of Congress? Is this a concern they’ve raised? How do you plan to address it? What have the Indians been telling you about this?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I would say this. India is a sovereign country. India, like all sovereign countries, will decide what is in its best national interest. India does not need me or other U.S. government, other State Department officials, to give public advice. We have too much respect for the Indians to do that. Point one.

Point two: Most of our European allies and Asian allies have diplomatic relations with Iran and commercial relations. India does as well. So I don’t think that India should be judged against a standard that we don’t ask others to be.

Point three: Iran is a very troublesome country on the international stage. It’s seeking the nuclear weapons capability. It’s been sanctioned twice by the UN Security Council for that action. It is funding and arming nearly all of the Middle East terrorist groups, so it’s a country acting against the interest of peace in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Because of that, we believe, the United States believes, that countries should diminish their relations with Iran. And we say this to the Europeans, we say it to the Japanese, and we say nothing different to India. Our advice to all of our friends and partners is: Limit your economic relationship with Iran. Don’t agree to new investments, particularly in oil and gas. We say that to Europe, Japan, South Korea, the Arab countries, as well as India. And because we believe that Iran needs to be shown that in seeking to become a nuclear weapons state, other countries will not conduct business as usual.

But I’m not trying to give public advice. India will make its own decisions. The advice, the points that I’ve just given are consistent with the points we give to every country. So we hope that India will continue to participate in the international efforts that are peaceful and diplomatic through the IAEA and the UN to convince the Iranians to stop, and convince the Iranians to negotiate. We hope India will be a strong supporter of that action.

Brazil is a strong supporter. Indonesia is a supporter. South Africa is a supporter; China and Russia, the U.S., and Europe. We’re all in the same group. It’s a very large group. The only countries really supporting Iran are Syria and Belarus and Cuba and Venezuela, whereas, there’s a big, big group of non-aligned leaders who have not aligned with us, and the P5. We’re acting together in the IAEA and the UN Security Council.

So it seems to me that India is part of that group and should remain part of that group alongside the other countries that I mentioned.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: One or two more quick questions and then I’ve got to leave.

QUESTION: There have been people in both countries, both capitols, who will nit-pick through the agreement. They can always find --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We’ve already seen a text from the Arms Control Association. They say there’s no right of return. There is right of return. Read the document.

QUESTION: And there are --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You’ll find it in there.

QUESTION: There is critic from the Indian side where they look at let’s say 5-2 and issues like reprocessing is only prospect there, and even that it says is pursuant to amendment to this agreement, but there are more steps required.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The reprocessing? We have made the commitment and the decision in the document. It’s written in the present tense; the present tense, not the future tense, that we commit to each other. We confer on each other reprocessing consent rights. We deliberately wrote that to convey that we have made the decision and we’re doing it now. But to carry it out and implement it, it requires the two steps that I explained, and that was clear in the agreement.

So I hope that people in India would see what a great step this was by the United States to confer reprocessing consent rights. We’ve only done it on a very limited basis.

QUESTION: And you mentioned that reprocessing is one of the issues that has been developing, is the word you used. I was wondering--


QUESTION: I was wondering if you would identify one or two points where you thought this might not come through. Was this the only issue?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know I never, I was always very positive about this negotiation because I knew that it was an unusual negotiation in the sense that it was begun by the two heads of government. That’s unusual in diplomacy. Normally you might start at a lower level and the final step is to get the two heads to agree to it.

In this case on July 18, 2005 in the Oval Office, Prime Minister Singh and President Bush said we’re going to do this together. We’re going to commit ourselves.

QUESTION: Wasn’t there anything preparatory which came up from the lower levels?


QUESTION: Wasn’t there anything preparatory which came up from --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, there was some preparatory, but the formal negotiations really began for the civ-nuke agreement in July ’05. So I always knew we had the mandate of the Prime Minister and President that they wanted this to happen, and they expected us to be skillful enough to overcome the differences between us to make it happen.

And so I actually don’t remember ever feeling that the agreement would never happen, but I can tell you these were very tough negotiations and the Indian side- both Ambassador Saran and Ambassador Menon are incredibly professional and skillful diplomats. I’ve emerged friends with both, but we also had some tough moments. But I think we arrived at a good, common result, a result that’s good for both countries. That’s what makes, that’s what forms a good international agreement, when it’s in the interest of both countries and both countries can say we benefit from this.

We know the United States benefits from this and I’m sure India feels the same way about its own interests.

QUESTION: When you say that you preserve the right to return, does that mean that they didn’t also preserve the right to test simultaneously? Is that an unsaid --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That is a decision for the Indian government to make. That’s a decision for the Indian government to make, but obviously in the modern world, the 21st Century, advanced nuclear powers largely do not test nuclear weapons. The United States is not testing nuclear weapons. Britain is not testing nuclear weapons.

India retains its sovereign rights, but the United States retains its legal rights as well. I think that’s a good complement, they’re a good complement to each other, and it’s a good, appropriate agreement. It brings those two into interplay.

QUESTION: Can I ask something quickly about Pakistan?


QUESTION: Can I ask something quickly about Pakistan? This dispute about al-Qaida hideouts, a safe haven in the tribal areas?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I spoke to that last week in my testimony.

QUESTION: Could there be an attack on those hideouts or not?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, we have the greatest respect for President Musharraf. He is our indispensable partner in the fight against al-Qaida. Pakistan has made a supreme effort through its 100,000 troops, through the many Pakistani soldiers who have been killed in battle, and we do not doubt the will of President Musharraf, and we consider him a major partner. We have a very good relationship with him. We respect the sovereignty of Pakistan.

QUESTION: What does it mean? I mean if you have credible information --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I thought it was a very good answer. [Laughter].

QUESTION: If you have credible information will you go for it?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I spoke last week at the Senate and I think what I said was we prefer cooperation from the Pakistanis [inaudible]. We respect the sovereignty of Pakistan. We have an excellent relationship with President Musharraf.

QUESTION: And are the relations strained now or how would you describe it?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The relations are very good between the Pakistani government and the United States. They’re very good. They’re strong relations.

We rely on Pakistan. Pakistan is our partner, particularly on the Afghan/Pakistan border, in the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban. We have very, very firm, good relations with Pakistan.

QUESTION: Do you also play any role in bringing Musharraf and Benazir together?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That is something for President Musharraf and Benazir to do. This was their affair. It’s an internal matter for the Pakistanis, not something that we should even comment about.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I hope you write good things about the civ-nuke agreement. [Laughter].

QUESTION: Good things about [inaudible].

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, it’s more important to write about the agreement than it is about me. Thank you.

I really think, I said last week I think it’s in many ways the most important initiative we’ve undertaken with the Indian government since 1947. It has the most far-reaching positive consequences. It could unlock cooperation in other areas. We’re very optimistic about our relationship with India today.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much

* International Atomic Energy Agency

* Nuclear Suppliers Group

* Under Secretary Burns misspoke. The four assurances are written verbatim into the 123 Agreement, not the Hyde Act.

Released on August 23, 2007

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