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On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government would send India’s safeguards agreement to the IAEA Board only after winning a vote of confidence in Parliament.
But on Wednesday, the IAEA Secretariat dropped this bombshell:
Press Release 2008/08
Draft India Safeguards Agreement Circulated to IAEA Board Members
Vienna, 9 July 2008 — At the request of the Government of India, the IAEA Secretariat today circulated to members of the IAEA Board of Governors for their consideration the draft of an “Agreement with the Government of India for the Application of Safeguards to Civilian Nuclear Facilities”.
The Chairman of the Board is consulting with Board members to agree on a date for a Board meeting when the Agreement would be considered.
Note to editors: The text of the draft Agreement is not public. IAEA Officials will not be giving interviews at this time.
So why would the government go back on its promise in less than 24 hours?
Clearly, the Bush administration wants things to move as fast as possible. There is a domestic political clock ticking — the vote of confidence is set for July 21 — but the White House wants the deal pushed as per the requirements of its own political clock, political propriety in India be damned. And never mind this betrayal of an assurance will make it that much more difficult for the government to win its vote of confidence.
Under the circumstances, a push will be made to get the IAEA Board to approve the safeguards agreement on July 28 itself, when a meeting is to be held to discuss the agency’s technical cooperation budget.
If the Manmohan Singh government has any political sense, it will make the safeguards agreement text public in the country before a website run by “non-proliferation ayatollahs” gets hold of it and leaks it.
Government spindoctors are scrambling for cover and trying to make a distinction between circulating the safeguards agreement to Board members and formally asking for its ratification. That’s rubbish. I’ll explain why in another post.