October 26th, 2011
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Manmohan skeptical of nuclear deal:Condoleezza Rice

Condoleesa rice Washington: Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State who is set to release her book ‘No Higher Honor’ has made certain revelations regarding India’s state of mind with regard to the India- US nuclear deal. The book presents a ring side view of the nuclear negotiations between the two countries.

Contrary to popular views, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was skeptical of the India-US nuclear deal as he was unsure of its impact on domestic politics. He just was not sure it would sell in India. It was the then external affairs minister Natwar Singh who was far more enthusiastic about the deal. Natwar Singh even worked with US interlocutors to swing the PM around to get his consent at a critical breakfast meeting with then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

Her book, No Higher Honor, set for release later this month, presents the first insider account yet of the negotiations leading to the India-US nuclear deal in 2005 and 2006, now so pivotal to the changed relations between the two countries.

Though some in India would not jump to clinche the deal, Mr Singh seemed to be more reluctant and needed more convincing, she said. But of course though he was weary of the deal initially, once the deal got rolling, Singh threw everything behind it — including the very survival of his government, she said.

Excerpt from the book:

The setting was July 2005. India and the US were to sign a framework for the deal. And things looked on course. Rice decided to call on Natwar Singh in his room at Willard Hotel in Washington to discuss the terms.The state department, was abuzz with talk about the deal. She preferred a quieter place to wrap it up. “I also thought it a sign of respect to go to him.”

But something was wrong. “Natwar was adamant.” “He wanted the deal. But the prime minister wasn’t sure he could sell it in New Delhi.” The two foreign ministers discussed the deal but they could only push so far, and not beyond.

“Finally, Natwar said he would take the document to the prime minister and let me know.” But news from the Indian camp was not good. Singh was not buying. And Rice was ready to give up: if this is what the Indians want, so be it.

“Too bad,” then US President George W Bush told her when she called to let him know. Early next morning, Rice decided to give it another shot. But the prime minister refused to see her. Natwar Singh told Rice the prime minister didn’t want to see her because he didn’t want to say no to her. “‘I wasn’t ready to surrender. ‘Ask him again,’ I pleaded.” Natwar Singh tried again. The PM relented, and agreed to see her.

And here was how she pitched it: “Mr Prime Minister, this is the deal of a lifetime. You and President Bush are about to put US-India relations on a fundamentally new footing. I know it’s hard for you, but it’s hard for the president (Bush) too. I didn’t come here to negotiate language — only to ask you to tell your officials to get this done, and let’s get it done before you see the president.”

Singh capitulated. “Prime Minister Singh, a mild mannered man who speaks slowly and softly,” says Rice, “pushed back but eventually gave the nod to his people to try again.” And they did, with remarkable impact. The deal was done.


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