PM Singh Was Reluctant to Sign N-Deal With US: Rice

Lalit K Jha | Washington
PM Singh Was Reluctant to Sign N-Deal With US: Rice
The Indo-US nuclear deal had virtually collapsed as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told President George W Bush it was not going to work and the entire administration had given up on it.

"I called the President (Bush). 'It isn't going to work. Singh just can't make it happen,' I said. 'Too bad,' he answered and didn't press further.

Later that night Nick (Nicholas Burns-the then Under Secretary of State) called to tell me what I already knew – there wouldn't be a deal," writes the then Secretary of State Rice.

Rice describes in detail in her forthcoming book No Higher Honor the riveting hours before the joint statement made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bush on July 18, 2005 on the framework for the agreement that almost brought UPA I government on the brink in July, 2008.

"The Foreign Minister tried, but the Prime Minister just can't sign on to the agreement," Burns is quoted as telling Rice after Natwar Singh made a final pitch for the agreement with the Prime Minister.

As Rice woke up early on the morning of the Bush-Singh meeting, she was a bit tensed but determined not to let this happen. She made a final effort to personally meet the Prime Minister and pitch for the deal.

Rice writes, "I am not prepared to let this fail. Arrange for me to see the Prime Minister, I said. The meeting with the President was set for 10. 'How about breakfast at eight?' Nick called while I was exercising to say that the Prime Minister didn't want to meet.

'Get the Foreign Minister,' I answered. Natwar picked up the phone. My heart was beating pretty fast–may be from the exercise, may be from the sense of an important initiative slipping through my fingers. Natwar, why won't the PM see me?

'He doesn't want to tell you no', he (Natwar Singh) said. I've done my best. I told him that the United States wants to take this thirty-year millstone from around your neck. You should do it. But he can't sell it in New Delhi.

I wasn't ready to surrender. Ask him again, I pleaded. A few minutes later, Natwar called to say that the Prime Minister would receive me at his hotel at 8 am," Rice wrote.

Rice went to the Willard Hotel, where the Prime Minister was staying, to meet him. But before going there, she called Bush that she was going to meet Singh to make a final effort. Natwar Singh was the only other person in that room.

"Mr Prime Minister, this is the deal of a lifetime. You and President Bush are about to put US-Indian relations on a fundamentally new footing. I know it's hard for you, but it's hard for the President too. I didn't come here to negotiate the language – only to ask you to tell your officials to get this done. And let's get it done before you see the President.

Prime Minister Singh, a mild-mannered man who speaks slowly and softly, pushed back (and) eventually gave his nod to his people to try again," Rice writes.

A jubilant Rice drove directly to the White House from the Willard, a block away, to tell the President about the good news. "When the Indians arrived, our negotiators and theirs sat in the Roosevelt Room, trying to find agreement, while the President, Prime Minister Singh, Natwar and I sat nervously in the Oval pretending to focus on other matters.

Finally, I got a note to join the negotiators. Natwar and I entered the room to the smiling Nick Burns and his counterpart. 'We've got it,' Nick said," Rice wrote.

Soon thereafter, Singh and Bush released the framework agreement to the press, "most of whom were already writing stories of failure," she writes.

Rice recalls that while Prime Minister Singh was not not sure of the deal, Natwar Singh was in strongly in favour of it.

"Natwar was adamant. He wanted the deal, but the Prime Minister wasn't sure he could sell it in New Delhi. We pushed as far as we could toward agreement. Finally, Natwar said that he would take the document to the Prime Minister and let me know," she says in her book, which is slated to hit the stands on November 1.
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