Journalist | Writer | Analyst
20 December 2006
Bush seeks to allay India’s concerns
President issues three caveats to construe policy statements as advisory
New Delhi: In an effort to allay official Indian concerns about several aspects of the nuclear cooperation legislation passed by the U.S. Congress earlier this month, President George W. Bush declared on Monday that he would not be bound by some of the law’s provisions.
In a formal statement issued shortly after signing into law the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, Mr. Bush introduced three specific caveats based on the executive’s constitutional prerogative to conduct foreign policy.
“Not foreign policy”
Noting that Section 103 of the Act “purports to establish U.S. policy with respect to various international affairs matters,” he said his approval of the Act “does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy as U.S. foreign policy.” Among the clauses in this section that Indian officials found particularly objectionable were directions to limit the amount of nuclear fuel India could store, and to “seek to prevent the transfer” to India of nuclear material by other countries in the event that the U.S. cuts off supplies.
“Given the Constitution’s commitment to the presidency of the authority to conduct the Nation’s foreign affairs,” Mr. Bush’s statement notes, “the executive branch shall construe such policy statements as advisory.”
The second caveat attempts to undo the presumption of denial of enrichment and reprocessing-related equipment to India, built into Section 104(d)(2) of the Act. India objected to this clause because it tended to rule out the resumption of “full” nuclear cooperation as promised by the July 2005 agreement.
In his statement, Mr. Bush noted that this restriction could give rise to a potential conflict between U.S. domestic law and Nuclear Suppliers’ Group guidelines, and raise “a constitutional question.” Thus, in order to avoid such an eventuality, “the executive branch shall construe Section 104(d)(2) as advisory.”
Finally, Mr. Bush’s statement said he would “construe provisions of the Act that mandate, regulate, or prohibit submission of information to the Congress, an international organisation, or the public” in a manner that would be consistent with his “constitutional authority to protect and control information that could impair foreign relations.”
In this regard, he specifically mentioned Sections 104 and 109 of the Act, which deal, inter alia, with reports on whether India is in compliance with its obligations, as well as on the establishment of a “joint scientific cooperative nuclear non-proliferation programme,” and which mandate close scrutiny of India’s strategic programme.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh noted last August that some of the annual reporting requirements, even if non-binding, introduced an element of uncertainty and should be done away with. Though the Hyde Act tempered these requirements somewhat, New Delhi was not fully satisfied with the outcome, and wanted the White House to clear the air on these.
Officials said though Mr. Bush’s caveats allayed some of the major concerns India had about attempts to shift the goalposts of the July 2005 agreement, New Delhi’s aim was to ensure that the bilateral “123 agreement” fully incorporates all U.S. commitments, including those implied by the latest statement. This is considered crucial since Presidential statements and clarifications can always be reversed depending on changed political circumstances.