Debrief: The President's Trip to India

Monday, March 27, 2006
Susan G. Esserman
Chair, International Department, Steptoe & Johnson, LLP

Council on Foreign Relations


MS. ESSERMAN: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to this evening’s Council on Foreign Relations program. As we begin, I ask that you turn off your cell phones, your BlackBerrys, and any other wireless devices that you have. Also, this is a reminder that this session is on the record.

It gives us great pleasure to welcome back to the Council Ambassador Nick Burns, who is at the center of U.S.-India relations. He is currently undersecretary for Political Affairs at the Department of State.

We all read with great interest about the developments relating to the agreement which he negotiated and concluded—the agreement implementing the prime minister and president’s July agreement for separation of military and civilian nuclear facilities, which was concluded while the president was on the ground in India.

He has a very distinguished career in the State Department, having been ambassador to NATO, ambassador to Greece, spokesman for the Department of State, and he also served on the national security staff, both for President Clinton and the first President Bush.

With that, let me turn to Ambassador Burns for a discussion on the historic trip by President Bush to India.

MR. BURNS: Thank you very much, Susan. Thank you very much. It’s nice to be here, and thank you all for coming. I see a lot of friends in the audience, particularly those from the Foreign Service—Bill Clark and Robin Raphel and Bill Price and Brandon Grove and Henry Precht and lots of people with whom I’ve worked for a long, long time. So thank you all for coming out.

I just wanted to say a few words about our policy towards India and about South Asia in general, the development of that policy over the last year as we’ve tried to build a new strategic relationship with India. I hope I’m not going to do that for very long, because I always find in these sessions, particularly at the Council, it’s always more interesting to have give-and-take and to see what’s on your mind and answer any questions you have. So if it gets to be too much, just signal me and stop me and I’ll stop and we’ll get to the question-and-answer period.

But I start by saying this: I think that President Bush came into office—I know President Bush came into office believing that we had to pay more attention to South Asia in general, because so many of our critical national interests are engaged there, particularly since 9/11, and that specifically we had an opportunity to build a new relationship with India that would be qualitatively different than the relationship that any prior administration was able to build, because of changing times. And that culminated in President Bush’s trip three weeks ago to Afghanistan and Pakistan and India.

And I want to talk a little bit about that, because you have to consider it as a whole and then focus on India and the nuclear deal.

We do see—as we look out on the world and as we look at the amount of time that the president and the Secretary of State of State spend on foreign policy, where they spend that time, we see South Asia as critical for our security interests. If you look at our interests in the war on terrorism, we see peace and security in the maintenance of a peaceful relationship between India and Pakistan to be central to our security interests. And we certainly, I think, now are probably paying more attention to the countries of South Asia than any prior administration. I don’t say that to compare ourselves in any way that’s not warranted in terms of positive acclaim, but just that American national interests now are so much engaged in the complex of issues involving the Middle East and South Asia that I think that is just objectively true.

And I always like to think, if you looked at the Secretary of State of State’s schedule 10 years ago today or 15 years ago today, it would have been filled with appointments and issues pertaining to the end of the Cold War and to Europe and to the beginning of the Balkan Wars. I can assure you that the Secretary of State of State’s schedule today, while it is global and while we are playing on all fields and we are paying attention to all regions of the world, the crises in the Middle East and in South Asia tend to occupy a lot more of the Secretary of State of State’s time today than they would have 10 or 15 or 20 years ago.

But certainly we have in Afghanistan an opportunity to try to consolidate with the Afghan government the security and the relative peace that was created after our—after the fighting was over in the autumn of 2001. And President Bush in his visit to Afghanistan had a good conversation with President Karzai about the continuing attempt to expand the training of the Afghan army and the positioning of the Afghan army to the south and to the east, to counter what has been a growing threat by the Taliban al Qaeda over the past year. And you’ll see in the next several months Britain, Canada and the Netherlands deploy NATO forces to the south of that country and the U.S. maintain its presence along the Pak-Afghan border as we attempt to deal with that threat.

We’re certainly dealing with the counternarcotics problem, which is of a very serious nature, as Afghanistan nears a possible record poppy crop over the next several months.

But by and large, while those are our two critical challenges in Afghanistan, we’re very pleased with the fact that the Afghan government has been growing in power. Its authority has been flowing out from Kabul to the rest of the country in a fairly measurable pace over the last couple of years, and we have great admiration for President Karzai and for the job that he has done. We just had the Afghan government here for two days of strategic talks last week, and I think we’re well positioned to continue our effort to support the Afghan government over the period ahead.

We have a larger challenge in Pakistan. We have a strong interest in helping Pakistan defeat the militants and the insurgency in Waziristan, in the North-West Frontier Province, and also in Baluchistan. We are working very closely with the Pakistani military in that effort, and we’re trying to effect a trilateral cooperation among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States, our three military forces, as we deal with problems along the border.

We’re also hoping that President Musharraf, while he contends with this very serious challenge in that part of his country, will continue to try to put the country on a path towards democratic reform, towards elections in 2007, and a liberalization of the country, both politically and economically, that would help it to move forward in a measured way over the next several years. That’s a test for President Karzai—excuse me, President Musharraf, and for the Pakistani authorities. But we have a strong relationship with that government, and the president’s visit was focused on that complex of issues: peace and security in that part of Pakistan.

But it also included—which gets me to India—our strong belief that India and Pakistan have to continue the composite dialogue, the so-called composite dialogue between the two governments that has made, I would say, good progress over the last two years in trying to alleviate some of the differences between those two countries, and that has positioned them to begin to think about talking in a more serious way about progress on Kashmir. That is a continuing interest of the United States.

As you know, President Clinton focused a lot of his time in the last several years of his second term on this issue, and this administration, our administration, has picked up where President Clinton left off and tried to play a role not as a mediator but as a friend of both countries to bring them together, to encourage that bilateral dialogue, and to prevent a recurrence of the type of crisis that we saw in the late 1990s between Pakistan and India.

I think the greatest change in our policy towards South Asia has certainly been in our bilateral relationship with India. We see a possibility of creating with India one of the two or three or four most important strategic relationships that we have with any country in the world. India is a country that very clearly and openly is, in a sense, leaving behind the non-aligned focus of its foreign policy that was the basis of its foreign policy for the first 50 years of independent India. It considers itself to be a global power because it believes it has global interests, whether it’s in seeking stability in South Asia, looking in the 21st century for a—situation of military and political stability in Asia itself that includes China and Japan and Australia, as it sees its global interests intersecting with ours on HIV/AIDS, certainly on democracy promotion, on alleviating poverty in South Asia and in Africa. We’re working with the Indians on those global issues in a way that we have not before.

And so we believe that we’re on the verge of fulfilling the promise of this U.S.-India relationship that I think every American president since Truman has thought was there, but no American president—because of the times or because of the particular relationship with India—was able to achieve. I think the stars have come into alignment to bring our two countries together.

I also think we should give credit where credit is due. President Clinton opened up this relationship with India in the mid-1990s and, I think, deserves great credit for it, for having made the strategic decision that we ought to achieve more in the relationship. President Bush, since his very first days in office, has tried to take that vision and, I think, take it much further along the road. And we thought that when President Bush visited India three weeks ago, we had essentially been able to put together the foundations of that.

What are the foundations of this strategic partnership? First, there is certainly no question that our two governments have made the decision that we’ve got to have a much broader bilateral relationship, and so we’ve been able to negotiate over the past year new major bilateral relationships in agriculture, for instance, where Prime Minister Singh, who comes from the Congress Party, which is based in the rural part of India, would like to, in effect, introduce a second green revolution in India, patterned after the green revolution of the 1950s and 1960s which did so much to make India self-sufficient in food production. He needs international capital investment and technology to do that. He also wants to reconnect our land-grant universities with the Indian technical institutes in agriculture throughout that country. And so we announced three weeks ago a hundred-million-dollar project to do that—to put our private agricultural research institutions and our land grant universities together with the Indian institutions. And we think this may be in the future the most important of all the bilateral initiatives that we announced.

Second, we agreed to work towards an agreement in space launch together, as a very lucrative potential market for both countries, and we are on the verge, I think, of closing—we will be on the verge of closing it very soon.

Third, we agreed that we ought to have a manned space flight program together. India and the United States have done very little in the way of space cooperation, in contrast to what we’ve been able to do with the Europeans, with Russia and Japan, and we’d like to bring India into that consortium of countries.

We also announced major initiatives in business promotion, in education. There are 85,000 Indian students in the United States. It’s the largest number of foreign students in our country. It’s growing. We’d like to get many more thousands of American students studying on an undergraduate and graduate basis in India.

And, of course, of the 17 or 18 joint ventures that we announced bilaterally, the most pronounced and certainly the one that’s received the most ink in the press has been our agreement on civil nuclear energy. When we began to put this relationship together about a year ago, Secretary Rice went out to Delhi and met with the Indian prime minister, and she agreed with him that we would try to overcome the 30 years of isolation from each other that we’ve had in the nuclear field. The Indians, of course, look ahead and they’re growing at 8 to 9 percent a year. They have over a billion people in their population, 700 million people who work on the land. They have enormous energy requirements. They have very little capacity to meet those requirements from indigenous production, and so they’re looking to diversify their energy sources.

They also have a fairly severe problem with air pollution, and they want to increase by a factor of four or five their nuclear energy production over the next generation. They can’t do that unless they’re relieved of the isolation that the international sanctions regime has put them in over the last 30 years.

The Indians told us a year ago that they’d be willing to conform their nonproliferation system to that of the NPT. They’d be willing to pass a new export control law on WMD. They’d be willing to, in effect, assume the responsibilities of nuclear powers in the field of proliferation if we would be willing to try to convince our Congress to overturn the prohibition on private American financial and technological investment in the nuclear power industry in India.

We thought about that for a long time before we jumped into it because, of course, we have an interest in preserving the nonproliferation regime, but also had an interest in trying to see if we could bring the largest country in the world into that regime. And the result was this agreement that we announced three weeks ago, that took a year to negotiate, where India promised to put all of its future civilian power reactors under international safeguards. It promised to put 14 of its 22 current nuclear reactors under international safeguards, and it also promised to agree to permanent safeguards, which was the most important issue from a U.S. perspective in these negotiations.

What this deal essentially does, if the Congress agrees to amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 on an India-specific basis, and if the Nuclear Suppliers Group agrees to change the international practice pertaining to India, what it does is it brings India into the international system in a way that it’s never been brought in before and, in our view, is a clear and very strong net gain for proliferation for the obvious reasons that I’ve cited. And so we’re working with the Congress now—in fact, I’ll be briefing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. Secretary Rice will testify before both the Senate and the House a week from tomorrow and a week from Wednesday. And we hope that within a month or two the Congress will agree with the administration that we ought to amend U.S. law.

At the same time, we briefed the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna last week, the 35 nations, and made this proposal that the international community adopt the same practices that the United States will hopefully adopt. We are supported in that by Dr. ElBaradei, who thinks that this initiative is in the clear interest of the international community, and by the Russian and French and Australian and British governments, among others, who all have agreed to support it.

So in the next six to eight weeks, you’ll see a debate, both here in the United States in our Congress about whether or not the Senate and the House ought to agree with the administration’s proposal, and you’ll see a commensurate debate internationally.

I’ve cited the reasons why we think this deal makes sense for the United States. It will cement the new strategic relationship between our countries. It has clear environmental advantages, particularly pertaining to global warming, as India becomes such a huge economic force in the world—now the fifth largest consumer of energy in the world—as it begins to be able to produce on its own, we hope, with our help, clean energy in nuclear power.

It also, we believe, will center India in the nonproliferation system in a way it never has been before, since India first became a nuclear power in the mid-1970s. And it has economic advantages for the United States because we hope very much that if these laws are overturned, American firms are going to be competitive for the considerable contracts that will be let to allow this expansion of India’s civil nuclear system.

Some of the criticisms of this agreement, that you’ve all read about in the op-ed pages, are, number one, that somehow it introduces a double standard in the world; it’s unfair, it treats other members of the nonproliferation—it doesn’t treat those other members of the nonproliferation regime in a way that we would now treat a country that’s been outside the regime, India. And if we’re talking about, say, Iran or North Korea, I would say yes, we’re trying to introduce a clear double standard. We think it’s important to treat a democratic, peaceful country that has used its nuclear power responsibly, that has not diverted its nuclear technology to third countries, that’s protected its nuclear technology over 30 years, that is trying to invite the IAEA to come into its country to introduce an intrusive international inspection regime—that’s India, on the one hand.

Then you have Iran, a country that is inside the NPT, unlike India, but has violated its pledges to the NPT and the IAEA, is trying to rid itself of IAEA inspections and the additional protocol and, of course, is now engaged in enrichment research and development at its plant at Natanz, clearly in violation of what the rest of the world wants it to do. So if that’s a double standard, we welcome that double standard, and we’re happy to treat a friendly country differently than we treat Iran or North Korea.

Another criticism has been, well, how can you negotiate a deal like this with India and at the same time hope to send a clear, consistent message to Iran? And the response we give is, very easily. Last Monday evening, I spent five hours with the Russian and Chinese and European political directors at the U.N. trying to negotiate this presidential statement that we hope will be adopted in a couple of days. And I can assure you, at no time during those five hours did the Russians and Chinese turn to me, or the British or the French political directors, and say, hey, you know, we really can’t be tough on Iran because the United States has this new deal with India. Nobody is putting these deals together. No one is comparing India and Iran, because they’re going in completely opposite directions.

And so I read this criticism in some of the op-ed articles that have appeared, to say that Congress shouldn’t take the step that the administration wants it to. But in the real world of diplomacy, versus a more theoretical world in which some of the critics live, this argument simply has no traction, because the Russians and the Chinese and the Americans and the British don’t think like this. We have a focus on Iran that is singular because of Iranian behavior, and we have a focus on India which is very different because India is acting in a very different and much more cooperative way.

And finally—and I think, frankly, a very serious argument is what does this do to the nonproliferation regime? And I think that is an argument that we need to answer and are answering and hopefully we’ll convince the Congress we have a good answer for. I think that all of us understand that the nonproliferation regime is worth supporting. We don’t want to see a world where nuclear weapons powers multiply in the future, but we also have to acknowledge what’s not working with the present regime. It’s an artificial regime which, for reasons that are obvious for the last 30 to 35 years of history, you have countries inside the NPT that are actively cheating and not abiding by the requirements that they signed up to. I’ve named two of those countries.

We have other countries that are Olympian proliferators, and yet we’ve all kept—and I think for very good reasons in the past—we kept India on the outside, we sanctioned India, and we isolated it. The real-world question we had to answer a year ago, when Secretary Rice visited Delhi and first had these conversations with the Indian government about whether or not we head down this road to change U.S. and international law, was this: Are we better off the next 30 years keeping India totally outside the international system, denying it our financing, denying it our technology, also denying ourselves the view, the transparency that we achieve by international inspections through the IAEA? Are we better off doing that, or are we better off bringing three-quarters of the Indian nuclear system under safeguards?

Recognizing that India is a nuclear weapons power—India is going to hold onto its nuclear weapons and not give them up—that this arrangement that we have negotiated does not speak to the nuclear weapons side of their industry, but where we get three-quarters of their system inside the nonproliferation regime. And as we look at India’s plans for the future, we believe it’s logical to think that at some point 20 or 30 years from now, 80 to 90 percent of India’s entire nuclear system will be under safeguards. Because if India is liberated from these sanctions, we’re betting it’s not going to go out and start an arms race with China or Pakistan. India has a policy of no first use. India has a minimal deterrent force. India has no national interest in starting an arms race with China or with Pakistan. India does have an interest—and every impulse in the political system, in the parliament, in their budgetary battles over the next 20 to 30 years will be produce more power for Indian businesses and for the growing population.

So we’re convinced that the Indians are going to spend their money in developing their civil nuclear power. Now, they’ll have to modernize and maintain their strategic force, obviously, but we think that the balance of spending’s going to be on the civil side. The agreement that we have is that any reactor built for civilian purposes, whether it’s a breeder reactor or a thermal reactor, comes under safeguard. And so we start with 65 percent of their system under safeguard when this deal is consummated, if it is to be by the Congress. We think that grows, logically and measurably over time, to 80 to 90 percent. We thought a year ago, and we still think today, that is a very good deal for the United States. ElBaradei, who is a protector of this international nonproliferation regime, agrees with us.

And so that’s the deal we negotiated and that’s the deal we’ll put forth to the Congress this week and next, as we begin hearings on this agreement.

So Susan, I’m happy to answer any questions that you or others have about the nuclear deal, but also about our broader policy towards South Asia.

MS. ESSERMAN: Thank you very much, Ambassador Burns. I’m going to begin the conversation and then turn it over to the audience.

It would be very interesting to hear your perspective—since you spent so much time on the ground in India in the last six months, in India, working on India issues—to hear, to get a sense of the perspective across the political spectrum in India to this agreement—the scientific community, the foreign policy community, and to get a sense of the prism with which they’re viewing this.

MR. BURNS: Thank you very much. Well, I think it’s—yeah, we’ve had a very vigorous policy discussion in the United States, in Washington and elsewhere, about this deal. I think that’s mirrored in India itself. The prime minister oversees this very unwieldy coalition of lots of political parties. Not all of his political allies in this coalition agree with this.

There was a big debate in India over the last year about whether or not they should invite the IAEA to come into their country and, for the very first time, expose a nuclear industry that had grown up in secrecy and outside international purview, expose it to the inspections that are surely to come. And so they’ve had a mirror debate of the one that we’ve had.

I think what’s interesting about Prime Minister Singh—and I think President Bush is similar to him—is that both leaders feel that to overcome all of the factors that held us back from a close relationship over the last several decades—and this is the ultimate unfulfilled relationship—during the Cold War, we were the personification of an aligned country, and India was the personification of a nonaligned country. And the promise that if you go back and read about partition and about the beginning of independent India, there were a lot of Americans at the time, in the late 1940s, who hoped that the United States and India would become close partners. We never did, and a lot of people in this room have a better perspective on that than I do. And I think both Prime Minister Singh and President Bush agree that we have that opportunity, but it takes bold moves to break through the orthodoxy that held us back in the past.

And so we knew what we were doing a year ago when we agreed to negotiate on civil nuclear energy. We knew that there would be a reaction from the nonproliferation community in Washington and in our country, from some of our own allies. And the Indians knew the same thing. There was a furious battle within the Indian nuclear establishment about—all the way up to March 2nd—about whether or not we should even conclude the arrangement. But both leaders had decided we’ve got to take this step. We’ve got to change our laws and change our way of thinking. And for us, it just made absolutely no sense to keep India outside for another 25 or 30 years when it is soon to be, if it is not already, one of our best allies in the world on a global basis.

And I also think that, as the second and last thing I’d say, is a lot of people make much of the fact that we’re both democracies, and that is a unifying factor in our relationship. But countries also act out of self-interest, and as we look out at American national interests and possibilities over the next generation, if we’re to maintain our position of global power and try to keep Asia peaceful and stable, we need a partner like India—on the balance-of-power equation, but also in some of the very important transnational challenges that increasingly, I think, both in the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, have occupied those of us who are in positions of some responsibility.

You know, we’ve spent a lot of time on global pandemics, whether it’s avian flu or HIV/AIDS. India’s been a partner on both. We spend a lot of time now on democracy promotion, and India has been very helpful to us, both—in encouraging, for instance, the king of Nepal to return his country to multiparty democracy—we have been a partner with India in that; encouraging the government of Bangladesh to commit itself to oppose Islamic militants who’ve been on a bombing campaign. And both of us have stood up for democracy promotion in Africa. In fact, Prime Minister Singh and President Bush were the first two world leaders who signed onto Kofi Annan’s new democracy consortium at the U.N. last year.

And we certainly see it in the field of—in the military and defense field, where we now are increasing partners with India. When the tsunami hit on December 26th, 2004, there were four countries that took the lead in organizing the military response to help the civilians affected by the tsunami—Japan, Australia, the United States and India. And we now find India, both in its own region but also in the Asia region in general, to be an increasingly important military partner.

And so there’s a confluence of national interests that have driven both countries together, and this was apparent in the 1990s when President Clinton was in office, and it’s certainly apparent now. And so I think both values and interests are at the front of this strategic leap that both countries are making.

MS. ESSERMAN: I’d just like to ask two questions that are related, and then we’ll turn to the audience.

First, if you might just expand a bit about how this agreement fits within the administration’s overall strategy, both in Asia and here in particular, how you see this affecting India’s relations with Pakistan, with the peace overtures which have been in place over the last two years. And then, second, you talked about a double standard, talked about Iran and Korea. But what has been the reaction of countries such as Brazil or Japan, South Africa, others that have joined the NPT who renounced their nuclear weapons?

MR. BURNS: Yeah. On the second question, we briefed the Nuclear Suppliers Group last week, and I think the reaction there also was a mirror of our debate, the debate on Capitol Hill. There are a certain number of countries strongly supportive—I think I named them—Russia and France and Britain; Australia has been publicly supportive; ElBaradei himself. Other countries are clearly in a middle category, waiting to see more of the details and, I think, sequentially wanting to see action by the United States Congress before the United States then comes to the NSG and asks for a change in international practice, and that’s the proper sequence. So I actually don’t see the NSG making its decision until we’ve got a decision—if we do have a decision; I hope we will—that’s positive in the United States itself.

I think eventually—that combination of countries that I mentioned is a powerful combination, and we’re very hopeful we’ll be able to convince the rest—and this group operates by consensus, so it’s a very high bar—that we ought to change international practice. And there’ll be lots of impetus to do that from some of the leading nuclear powers.

I frankly don’t—I haven’t—I’ve talked to the Brazilians and the South Africans, and I don’t think they’ve proclaimed themselves finally as to where they are. They’ve been asking lots of questions. I don’t believe they’ve committed themselves one way or another.

First question—

MS. ESSERMAN: How this fits within the overall strategy in Asia, and particularly India-Pakistan.

MR. BURNS: Yeah. I want to be very clear about one thing: The United States certainly doesn’t believe—we certainly did not entertain this big strategic relationship with India somehow because we want to contain China. I think all of us who know China understand that China is so powerful and its interests are so broad in the world today that we don’t seek to contain China; we seek to engage it. And both Condi Rice and Bob Zoellick, our deputy Secretary of State, have talked about the stakeholder relationship, where China increasingly feels that it has a stake in the global management of the world economically, politically, sometimes militarily, along with the other countries like the United States that have global responsibilities.

Two interesting points of comparison there: When the tsunami did hit, it was the four countries that I mentioned that within a matter of days just started to cooperate with each other. There wasn’t a big decision. We just had a habit of cooperating with them, and we knew their militaries were ready and that their political leaders were ready to make the commitment to go out and launch this massive military campaign. China was not part of that. But if you fast-forward to September 19th, 2005, and the breakthrough we had in the North Korea talks, China was the country that was instrumental in putting together the final compromise that led to that six-party agreement with North Korea. And so we’ve seen instances where China does take that global responsibility, and we welcome that.

So a lot of people have written—I know—well, the Bush administration is engaged in this exercise of strategic reach with India because they want to block or contain China. We actually want to engage China, and we would like—we certainly want a peaceful relationship between China and India. I know that’s what both of those countries want. They have a very vigorous trade relationship.

Now, on the other side, we obviously have some responsibility as a friend to Pakistan, and now a friend and partner with India, to use our influence to encourage both countries to make sure that there isn’t an arms race between those two countries, that they are focused on a way to try to reduce their differences over Kashmir. There’s a very promising dialogue that began several years ago out of the wake of another crisis between them, this composite dialogue, where they’re very slowly chipping away at some of the everyday problems between them. It’s the bus line that unites the divided peoples of Jammu and Kashmir; it’s some of the other confidence-building measures that both governments have put in place in recent months. We want to encourage that. And we’ve told both governments, in the wake of the president’s visit, that we actually want to step that up.

And so I’ve invited my Indian counterpart to come here; he’s arriving tomorrow night. And part of my discussion with Foreign Secretary Saran will be about how can the United States be helpful in encouraging further growth in India’s relationship with Pakistan. And when Foreign Secretary Riaz Khan of Pakistan comes a month from now—I’ve invited him—we’ll do the same. But more importantly, the president will continue this with Prime Minister Singh and President Musharraf, as will Secretary Rice with the two foreign ministers.

And so we think this is a top priority, and we think it’s certainly within reason that we ought to see a continuation of this relatively good movement forward in Indo-Pak relations.

MS. ESSERMAN: And you don’t see the agreement itself having an adverse effect on that and the progress that’s been made?

MR. BURNS: We don’t. In fact, we were careful to keep the Pakistani government informed of progress of the negotiations over the past year. We had many conversations with them about this. Now obviously, the Pakistani government isn’t thrilled with this agreement, and they’ve said that publicly, but we don’t think this should lead to any kind of deterioration in their own dialogue with India, and there’s been no evidence of that; nor, I think, will we see it over the next several months.

MS. ESSERMAN: I’d now like to invite members of the Council to participate in the discussion. Please make sure you wait for a microphone and state your name and affiliation.

Q Ambassador Burns, Woolf Gross, Northrop Grumman. The communique issued at the end of the trip has a specific paragraph in it—confidence-building measures—in this case, cooperation in maritime security. And I’d like to hear a little bit more about what the administration has in mind in that regard.

MR. BURNS: Yeah. I said we’re developing our military relationship. Just before the president arrived in India, we had major naval and air exercises, the largest we’d had in years, with the Indian government. We’re going to continue that. Defense Secretary Mukherjee and Secretary Rumsfeld have agreed last June on a major program to expand not only our training and exercise cooperation, but also, we hope, the United States will be competitive to bid on some of the new contracts that the Indian government is letting for the modernization of the Indian armed forces.

And one of the problems that we certainly see in the Arabian Sea that we have in common is increased piracy in the broad Arabian Sea, and we’d like the Indian and the U.S. navies to cooperate and try to reduce that threat to both of our countries and to our interests and certainly in the interest of navigation and maritime trade. And so we’ve launched this with the Indians and with other countries, by the way, on a bilateral basis. And it’s an important issue.

You may have seen in the paper last week that U.S. naval vessels were engaged off the coast of Somalia in action against pirates from Somalia, and if you talk to people who are in—who have shipping in that entire region, this is quite a grave concern. So that’s just one area in which we’re increasing our cooperation.

Q Thank you. Jim Moody, Merrill Lynch. You’ve certainly made a very persuasive, positive case for this. I wish you’d return a bit to the impact on the NPT in the minds of many other nations. You mentioned Brazil and South Africa. But for many nations, it must seem like that we are in some sense devaluing the NPT, which is—we have been the leader of the world on pushing people to go into the NPT, and to—as it can be interpreted—to reward India for things other than that while they remain outside it must raise questions that I think we need to all hear probably more about. So if you would elaborate a bit more.

I know you made a very strong case, but I think it’s got to be an issue which other countries you didn’t mention are pondering and wondering why we, of all people, of all countries, would be engaging in something that would seem to reward people, a country that refuses to join the NPT.

And just as a p.s. to my question, did that come with India—first of all, why are 35 percent of those installations not under control? A small question, maybe. But more importantly, did India talk about possibly leading towards joining it? What is their ultimate reason, if they do all these other things you say, not to join the NPT?

MR. BURNS: Yeah. I think it’s a very good question, and this is a real—to my mind, this is the core issue that needs to be joined in this debate we’re having with the Congress and that has already been joined in our discussions with Congress behind the scenes. A lot of the critics of this deal say that it weakens the nonproliferation regime, and we have to take that criticism seriously, and we do.

I talked before about real-world choices. The NPT is important. We want to support it. The president gave a speech in February 2004, where he offered some new ideas on how we can strengthen the NPT regime. We and the Russians and other nuclear powers are interested in trying to see if we can guarantee fuel supply, for instance, for nuclear power production to those countries that have chosen not to have nuclear weaponry. In fact, that is the basic Russian proposal that’s been made to resolve the Iranian crisis, to which we’ve agreed—that if Iran would agree that Russia or any other country or consortium of countries could have all the sensitive aspects of a nuclear fuel cycle operation take place outside of Iran—nuclear fuel shipped into Iran. President Bush said back in November that’s a deal we could accept, but the Iranians have turned it down.

I think that the problem here is that the NPT regime, as it’s developed over time, has some serious weaknesses and serious contradictions. And so it’s not as if the United States, the Bush administration, took a pristine, perfectly ordered, super well—100 percent well-oiled and functioning NPT regime and shot a hole in it. This was a regime with a lot of internal contradictions, where, as I said before, the basic proposition that a country that has essentially played by the rules—essentially, in terms of how it’s guarded its nuclear technology—India, because it developed nuclear weapons six or seven years after the NPT regime was founded, did not have a way into that regime as a nuclear weapons power. And so it was sanctioned and kept outside the system for the last 30 years.

We assume one thing: India is not going to give up its nuclear weapons. The Indians have said that; all of us know that’s the case. And so we had a deal with a hard balance of pros and cons. If India’s not going to give up its nuclear weapons, and yet India wants to come into the international regime, it’s willing to open itself up, the majority of its facilities under safeguard, is that a good deal for us? Do the positives outweigh the negatives? And we thought about that, actually, for a long time.

It’s part of, if I can—just having read Strobe Talbott’s book, which is a very fine book, about his negotiations in 1999 and 2000 with another set of Indian diplomats—the Clinton administration wrestled with the same question and came to different answers than the Bush administration did. But we came to a different answer because we felt that it did not serve the cause of proliferation—nonproliferation or the NPT regime to keep what’s soon to be the largest country in the world outside of the system if it wanted to come in, at least on a majority basis.

And so the deal that we negotiated does not speak to the question of their nuclear weapons. We’re not recognizing India as a nuclear power—we the United States—a nuclear weapons power by agreeing to this civil nuclear power initiative. We’re going to make sure that any American investment or foreign investment into their nuclear industry—because it’ll be transparent, because investment will only go to safeguarded facilities, and because there’s a separation now between civil and military facilities in India—none of that investment will aid its nuclear weapons program. But India certainly has a right to continue to have a nuclear weapons program. It will have the ability to modernize that program or to add to it, should it choose to do so.

But we felt that that was outweighed on the positive side by the benefit to the nonproliferation regime of bringing them into the system, because we are betting—and it’s a sure bet, in our minds—that the great growth in their nuclear industry will be in the civilian side, into power production, not into weapons production. And so an increasing amount of—ever-increasing amount of their system will come under safeguard as the years roll forward.

But President Bush announced this the afternoon of March 2nd with Prime Minister Singh. The first thing he said, as I remember, was this was a difficult negotiation, and it was a difficult choice. It wasn’t obvious a year ago that we ought to make this choice. But the more we thought about it—not just because India is strategically important, not just because India is a democracy—but the more we thought about the proliferation side, it’s a strong net gain. It’s not a 100 percent gain. It’s not a perfect deal, and none of us have ever described it that way. But it’s certainly in our national interest to go down the road, and that’s how we look at it.

And I think—I know that’s how ElBaradei looks at it, because Secretary Rice had a long conversation with him about it several months ago when he said I support this. And indeed, the day that we announced it in Delhi, he issued a public statement saying this is a gain for the proliferation regime. But he also acknowledged the trade-offs—and he has acknowledged—that we’ve made here. And so I think it would have been easier for us politically with the Congress and with the NSG, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, if we hadn’t done anything at all. Sure. But sometimes, to really move a relationship forward and to make a big strategic move, you’ve got to—you’ve got to lead, and you’ve got to lead people towards a different way of treating a country like India. And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve overturned some of the conventional wisdom, the orthodoxy of the last 30 years, but we’re convinced for solid and sound reasons.

MS. ESSERMAN: Right in the back. Way in the back.

Q Thank you. Daryl Kimball, the publisher of Arms Control Today and the director of the Arms Control Association. I wanted to pick up on something you said, Undersecretary Burns, on the choice about whether this is—the judgment about whether this is, on balance, a net plus or minus. You mentioned Mohamed ElBaradei. Just on Saturday, he gave a speech in Germany on steps to strengthen the nonproliferation system. He criticized, among other things, the Security Council, for not backing up the measures—

MR. BURNS: Excuse me. The security—

Q—the Security Council for not backing up measures that would strengthen the nonproliferation system. You just said a few minutes ago that India will have to modernize its arsenal, build its strategic force; this deal is not about limiting India’s strategic options. And yet ElBaradei noted something that I would hope the administration does not forget about, which is the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1172 from 1998. And I think one of the criticisms of many of the people of this deal and the administration’s approach and your judgment that this is a net win is that the administration has lost sight of the fact that nonproliferation also involves not just preventing the transfer of technologies from one state to another, but limiting the ability of those states who have nuclear weapons and weapons technology to build more. And as you said, it would be unfortunate if India, Pakistan and China did engage in an arms race.

So my question is why isn’t it that you in your negotiations sought to follow through on the U.S. commitment in U.N. Security Council 1172, which calls on India to formally stop nuclear testing, not to improve its arsenal, to stop the production of fissile material for weapons? And why can’t India, if it has simply an interest in a minimal credible deterrent, agree to some constraints on its fissile material production capacity, which you just acknowledged will not be limited by the separation plan that you outlined?

And just finally, as a factual note, the—I mean, India already has four facilities under safeguards. They’re scheduled to have two more under safeguards, the two Russian reactors. The deal, as I understand it, would only allow—or commit—India to add another eight facilities to the safeguarded list, with the possibility of more in the future, but it leaves eight electricity-producing reactors out of safeguards and available for weapons. Thank you.

MR. BURNS: Thank you very much, and thanks for all those questions. I’ll try to keep track of them and answer as many as I can. If I forget, you let me know.

On the last question, what we were most concerned about over the last several months of the negotiation—in fact, these two issues came down to the very last day, and we wouldn’t have had a deal without achieving them; we would have walked away from the deal—was two factors.

First, we insisted that any safeguards put in place be permanently applied. We just couldn’t see ourselves agreeing to anything other than that, and it took a year to get there.

Second, what was more important to us than the number of reactors currently being placed under safeguard, 14 to 22—you go from 19 percent of their nuclear facilities being covered by safeguards to 65 percent because of this arrangement—what was more important, frankly, was that they committed, the Indian government committed, that all their future civilian breeder and thermal reactors would be put under safeguards. You have to calculate in many negotiations where you put your leverage what points are the most important for you. We could have insisted, I guess, instead of 14 current reactors, 16 or 18.

It was much more important to us, because we think there’s going to be a tremendous growth in the number of civilian nuclear reactors over the next generation, that India agree that all of them that are going to be for civilian purposes be put under safeguards. So that’s where we put the weight in our negotiations. We said to the Indians the night before the deal was agreed that we couldn’t agree without both of those issues being resolved in our favor, and they did agree.

Second—let me get to the first part of your question. I want to be clear about something, and I hope—I apologize if I gave a different impression than the one I want to give now. We are not encouraging India to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal. This agreement is value-neutral, the agreement we signed, about their nuclear weapons arsenal. It’s a small number of weapons. As I said before, it’s a deterrent force and India has principle of no first use. But the agreement doesn’t restrain India, on a factual basis, from building power reactors for the nuclear weapons industry. It doesn’t restrain them. It doesn’t restrain them from modernizing their nuclear weapons, as all—I think all—current nuclear powers do, or to maintain the safety of those—of the arsenal. It doesn’t restrain them from building, if that’s what they choose to do. And I just think it’s important to be clear about what this agreement doesn’t do, because people ask.

But what it does do is it does commit them to a moratorium on nuclear testing. They committed to that last July; they reaffirmed that commitment to us three weeks ago, and that’s a part of the deal. It also commits them, as I said, that all their future reactors be put under safeguards. India has committed to us that when a fissile material cut-off treaty becomes a—and we hope it will—something that’s realistic and can be achieved in the future; we’re not there yet, as you well know—India will support a fissile material cut-off treaty.

What India was unwilling to do in these negotiations, and they made it clear a year ago, would be to agree to a unilateral moratorium on fissile material production. We have such a moratorium, as do most of the other nuclear powers. We hope that India will agree at some point in the future to a moratorium on fissile material production, but it’s not part of this agreement. And so we’ll continue to talk with the Indians. That’s a difference between us. We think they should agree to a fissile material moratorium at some point in the future.

So I hope that responds to the beginning series of questions you had, but if it doesn’t, let me know.

MS. ESSERMAN: (Off mike.)

Q Aziz Haniffa, India Abroad. Going back to one of the questions that Susan asked about vis-a-vis your briefings to the NSG, Ambassador Boucher and Ambassador—(inaudible)—there—and some of the reports seem to indicate that—sort of the response was rather lukewarm, and it’s unlikely that it could be included in the formal agenda in May. Could you speak to that?

And also, you’ve told us in many briefings that your interactions with congressmen, senators, have been very good; there’s a lot of support for the agreement, et cetera. But why is it that as of now, there doesn’t seem to be any cosponsors to any of the legislation that was sponsored both on the House and the Senate side? I think on the House side, only Congressman Wilson has come out and cosponsored it, and on the Senate side, Senator Cornyn has said something on the (House?) floor, but there doesn’t seem to be any movement in terms of cosponsors?

MR. BURNS: Well, let me just correct the facts, Aziz, if I could. I believe in the Senate Senator Lugar introduced this bill—I believe there are 11 or 12 cosponsors in the Senate, and a number of members of the House have come out with public statements to support the legislation.

I think that the attitude—as I perceive it, the attitude in Congress and the attitude in the NSG are similar. Certainly in the Congress, most members to whom I’ve talked want to hear the testimony of Secretary Rice, and they want to have a chance to ask questions. And it may be that members of the Senate and House want to give us some of their ideas for how the agreement can be strengthened. And what we said is we’re open to any ideas that the Senate and House want to offer us, as long as they don’t require us to go back and break the agreement.

We opened the negotiations because we frankly think this is such a complex deal, we’d probably never be able to put it back together again. But if members of Congress have ideas that would not be deal-breakers, or require us to re-negotiate, and if they think and we think those ideas can strengthen the arrangement, we’re all ears and we’re open to them. And in fact, in some of our private sessions—I’ve met with about 20 members of the Senate individually—some members of the Senate have given us ideas which I think are very attractive.

So I think what we’re going to see is a fairly dynamic debate on the Hill, where there’ll be testimony in the Senate, testimony in the House; Congress will offer some ideas. And we hope that at some point in the next month or two—probably more likely in May or June—we’re going to see a vote, and we hope that vote will be positive. We’re going to wait until the Congress acts before we formally ask the Nuclear Suppliers Group to make a commensurate effort. So the reason why the India issue isn’t on the agenda of the board meeting for late May is because we’re not quite sure when Congress is going to act. But you can call a meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group at any time, so if you miss the late-May board meeting, you can call a meeting for June or July or August. So that’s not an insuperable barrier to us, so I’d answer your questions in that way.

I want to be fair to the gentleman from Arms Control Association. The other thing he asked about that I didn’t answer, and I want to say it again, is it’s going to be very important that India and Pakistan restrain any sense of competition in the nuclear weapons field. And we frankly feel a responsibility, because of this agreement and because we’re friends with both, to make that a part of our discussions with both of them individually and collectively. And we have already—we started to do that on President Bush’s trip, and we’re continuing that. And I take—I saw your question going in that direction, and I think you’re absolutely right that it’s got to be part of our diplomacy, and it is.


Q Spurgeon Keeny, National Academy of Sciences. I must say I fail to see any reasons in your presentation as to why this helps the nonproliferation regime, particularly since, as I understand it, under the agreement, the Indians, in the future, in their prized breeder reactor program, can announce whether future reactors are for military or civilian purposes. So they have almost a totally open-ended opportunity to expand their program.

And I also note that we have very good relations with Israel, which is also a nonparticipant in the NPT. So my question is, to what extent was the agreement with India dependent on our agreement to essentially circumvent the NPT and our obligations under it, and to what extent this is something they insisted on or something we simply volunteered?

MR. BURNS: “They” being?

Q India.

MR. BURNS: India. Okay, thank you.

One of the most complex aspects of this negotiation was the fact that India’s nuclear program, its civil and military programs, developed over time intertwined. And so India, for instance, has used some nuclear reactors both for power production and also to service their nuclear weapons industry. And we said that we did not think we could present—we could not present an agreement to the Congress or NSG with that intertwined system in place. And so therefore we asked India last July to develop a plan to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities, and that was the crux of these negotiations over the last eight months. And absent such a separation plan and a commitment by India to, in effect—to effect this separation over the next several years, it would not have been possible to have reached an agreement.

We think, frankly, it is, from our perspective—and I think it is from ElBaradei’s too—a decided advantage to proliferation that India’s undertaking this challenge. India will be much more transparent in the future about its nuclear industry, which has been closed to you and closed to us for the last 30 years because of it.

But secondly, I think the answer to your question—and you seem to be opposed to—you don’t see the proliferation benefits—I think it depends very much on what you think India’s going to do, where it’s going to spend its money, where it’s going to place its strategic efforts over the next generation. And I’m repeating myself here, but I think it’s an important point. As we understand the Indian strategic plan, the vast majority of their effort is going to be in the civilian side. And because we were able to get them to commit that all future civilian and breeder reactors—civilian breeder reactors—will be put under safeguards, there are decided proliferation advantages to having—to grow from 65 to 70 or 80 or 90 percent eventually of their entire nuclear complex, to have it under international safeguards. That’s the proliferation advantage that we see.

Now, some of the critics say what you’ve done is you’ve opened up an arms race, or you’ve given India a big hole, a big opportunity, to develop its nuclear arms industry. India could double its nuclear arms capacity now, if it wanted to, but it hasn’t chosen to do that, when it’s been under sanctions. And if it comes into the international nonproliferation regime and it begins to cooperate more with all of our countries and our private firms, we don’t see any reason why India would make the choice to suddenly go out and become a major nuclear arms player. That’s not been India’s motivation for 30 years and we don’t see anything in the strategic calculus that would change that. So that’s more than an assumption. We’re fairly convinced that that’s going to be the future of India’s nuclear industry, and so therefore, on that basis, we think there are decided advantages here.

Q (Off mike)—to what extent was reaching this agreement with India dependent on its nuclear component, since we obviously have extremely good economic relations with Israel, for example, in the absence of any such special agreement. Did they insist on our incorporating a nuclear arrangement?

MR. BURNS: Not at all. In fact, what we told each other from the beginning of the negotiations to the end was if this agreement does not speak to the issue of India’s nuclear arms regime, it doesn’t affect it positively or negatively. The Indians, I think, would have been delighted if as part of the agreement the United States had said we now recognize India as a nuclear weapons power. We said we cannot do that, and won’t do it, and so we didn’t do that. And so there was no linkage.

Q (Why didn’t we ?) do nothing?

MR. BURNS: Well, we didn’t do nothing because we felt very strongly, as we looked at the advantages and disadvantages of this deal, we would be disadvantaged by not doing anything, by maintaining the status quo. The status quo wasn’t working; it was artificial. It kept this country, with which we wanted to have cooperation in the civil nuclear field outside the regime, and we felt that that system, which was tottering and which was inherently weak, the NPT system, would begin to deteriorate further unless we did something to bring India at least partially into the system. That’s why we didn’t do anything. That was an option for us.

MS. ESSERMAN: We have time for just one more question.

Q David Apgar, Corporate Executive Board. What’s the closest to comparable terms that China could conceivably offer to Pakistan, let’s say within four years or five years? And would we care?

MR. BURNS: The answer to your second question is you bet we’d care. (Scattered laughter.) The answer to the first is there’s no option there. One of the criticisms that frankly—I take a lot of the—we take the criticism very seriously. We have great respect for people like Strobe Talbott and Bob Einhorn, some of the other people who’ve come out publicly and said they don’t agree with us—great respect for them.

But the one argument that I simply can’t understand is this argument: The administration has now opened up Pandora’s box. If we make this exceptional deal for India, what’s to prevent China from asking the international community to make a similar deal for Pakistan? And the answer is the international community would never agree to it. China would have to go to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and say please, all of you, all 35 of you, agree to change the way you do business with Pakistan on nuclear technology, Pakistan being a major proliferator, A.Q. Khan network. That proposition just wouldn’t have much support in the NSG, and you need a consensus in the NSG. So the idea that somehow this will unleash a pattern of deals with other countries, or with Iran or with North Korea, is just not serious. It’s not the way the international system works. It wouldn’t be a convincing argument.

MS. ESSERMAN: Thank you, Ambassador Burns. Thank you all for coming tonight. It was a terrific presentation.

MR. BURNS: Pleasure. Thank you very much. (Applause.)








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