'This is a big step we are taking with respect to India'
Had he won three million more votes than he did 14 months ago, he would not have been sitting in the Bell Tower suite at Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel last Friday, taking questions on the India-United States nuclear accord which he surprisingly endorsed during his visit to New Delhi.
It is uncertain if indeed such an accord would have been signed had President John F Kerry -- not George W Bush -- had been in the White House. The United States senator has been one of America's aggressive champions of non-proliferation -- the campaign against the spread of nuclear weapons -- and some Indian strategic analysts had predicted rough times for India had he been elected President in November 2004.
In the event he did not become President and the man who defeated him -- as National Security Adviser M K Narayanan told us last August -- has made it his personal mission to take the India-US relationship to a new high.
With the nuclear accord -- which has unfortunately become a symbol for the transformed India-US relationship -- confronting rough passage in the American parliament -- the US Congress, comprising the House of Representatives and the Senate -- the Manmohan Singh government was no doubt anxious to win an influential Senator like Kerry over to its side to enhance India's case before Congress.
Senator Kerry may have backed the accord at a press conference in New Delhi last Thursday, but as he told Nikhil Lakshman India needs to do much more before Congress ratifies the nuclear agreement. A frank, exclusive interview with rediff India Abroad. Photographs: Dominic Xavier.
'India has behaved better than some countries that have signed the NPT '
Senator Kerry, as one of the Senate's most vocal voices against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, your support for the India-US nuclear accord came as a surprise. Could you spell out the reasons for your support?
Let me make it clear. What I said at the press conference, what I have said every time, what I said to the prime minister, to everybody else, that I support the basic direction of the agreement, but the t's have to be crossed, the i's have to be dotted, the agreement has to be put in full language and in that regard Secretary Burns (Under Secretary Nicholas R Burns, who is supervising the progress of the agreement for the Bush administration) is coming here to discuss the separation of civilian and military (nuclear) facilities.
That is important. I want to see that and see that is clearly done. I want the final structure and language of the agreement to make certain that we are strengthening the non proliferation agreement. Let me give you an example. Non proliferation is not just passing fissile material or technology to another country, it is also building additional nuclear weapons, it is not growing your nuclear arsenal. So it is important for India to make very clear where we are headed in the long run here.
Does that mean that you can't have an agreement? No. But I think it is important to have a framework where we understand where we are going.
In principle, this agreement is good because it takes a State that has a nuclear programme, that is outside of the IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) and brings a majority of it (nuclear programme) inside the IAEA. On the face of it, that is a positive step.
Secondly, by doing so, it encourages, I think, other countries to recognize that there is a respect for the IAEA process.
India has, in fact, behaved better than some countries that have signed the NPT (Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty). It seems to me that it would be irrational for us not to recognize that kind of good behaviour and to turn our backs on bad behaviour by people who signed the NPT. That just doesn't make sense in my book.
I think there is a way to make this (the nuclear agreement) positive with respect to the non proliferation effort I care about but positive also for the India-America relationship.