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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addresses the media
Prem Panicker in Washington DC
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July 20, 2005 23:41 IST

Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is under a misapprehension, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] said in Washington D C on Wednesday morning, in his criticism of the decision to separate civil and military nuclear establishments as being 'dangerous to national security'.

Such a separation, Dr Singh said, is a national decision based entirely on India's security concerns, and the government would not surrender the country's autonomy to take decisions in this regard.

Dr Singh's reference was to that part of the joint statement issued on Monday by President George W Bush [Images] and himself that, among other things, said India would open up its civilian nuclear installations to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In similar vein, Dr Singh said he would, shortly after his return to New Delhi, be making a suo moto statement in Parliament that would touch on all aspects of his discussions with Bush and senior administration officials in Washington. "The Parliament," he said, "is sovereign, we will go forward only on the basis of broad national consensus" on all issues.

Dr Singh was addressing the Indian, and Indian American, media at the conference room of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, an engagement he sandwiched between a breakfast meeting with the editorial board of the Washington Post, and a speaking engagement at the National Press Club that is hosting lunch in his honour on Wednesday afternoon.

Responding to a question on the 'continued infiltration in Kashmir' that had hit the headlines on Wednesday morning with a suicide attack in Srinagar's [Images] Sonwar area, Dr Singh said that in all his discussions thus far with Bush and high-ranking officials of his administration, he had repeatedly emphasised the need to control terrorism in Kashmir as a pre-condition to furthering the peace process with Pakistan.

"There is a definite threat perception within the administration, there is a perception that the threat is global, and this has been extensively discussed. The president is aware of and sympathetic to the challenges we face," Dr Singh said.

Dr Singh, in his interaction on Wednesday and in earlier statements and interactions, repeatedly emphasised that while the Indian government is determined to push the partnership with the US to a higher plane on several fronts, this would not be at the expense of India's right to decide for itself where its best interests lie.

Thus, asked about the Iran oil pipeline, a project the US has opposed, Dr Singh said "India's needs for commercial energy are very well recognised in the US. I have had wide-ranging discussions with President Bush on the subject, on the need for clean coal, nuclear energy and also the need for India to seek alternate sources of hydrocarbons to fuel our growing economy. We have the right to diversify sources, and the decision on the pipeline is between us and Iran. Outside parties have no role to play in this."

Addressing another area of concern, the PM said the perception that India, on the nuclear power and technology front, has given away more than it has gained was incorrect. "As stated in the joint statement, the obligations are on the basis of full reciprocity," Dr Singh said, echoing sentiments expressed earlier by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran. "Only if some things are done by the US, and done to our satisfaction, are we obliged to fulfill our own part (of the bargain)."

Newspapers across the United States have, in reports and editorials, seen the Indo-US agreements on nuclear power as a clear sign that the US is setting up India as a counterbalance to China. Addressing the question, Dr Singh said during his stay in the US, he had at great length briefed Bush and the administration on the challenges India faces today.

"There is a great understanding and support for what the US sees as India's unique experiment in marrying democracy with sustained development," Singh said. "I am not here to use this visit against some other power -- if India's economy grows at a rate of 8 to10% per annum, all our neighbors will benefit.

"As far as Indo-China relations are concerned, we are for purposeful engagement," Dr Singh said, detailing the progress made on the bilateral front in terms of border disputes and economic relations. "Our goal is to continue this process of constructive engagement with China."

The other common thread in news reports across the US is the likely opposition, in Congress to Bush's promise of nuclear fuel for Tarapur and other reactors. Asked if the Bush administration could walk the president's talk, Singh said, "I sincerely hope so. I have been greatly impressed, during this visit, by the sincerity of President Bush and his senior Cabinet colleagues on this issue, and I hope he will use his influence in Congress (to deliver on his promise)."

In a similar vein, when asked if his government had the will, and political capital, to move the national consensus forward on the various initiatives discussed and decided upon during his visit, Dr Singh said he had great faith in the 'inherent patriotism of my countrymen. The various initiatives -- on Pakistan, on China, and vis a vis the United States -- are all in the national interest. Parliament politics sometimes diverts attention from the national goals, but I am confident that given the patriotism of our leaders and the people, consensus will be achieved on all fronts'.

The sole sour note on this trip has been the US' continued opposition to India's bid for a Security Council seat. Addressing that question the other day, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran had said 'the game is on', adding that India would go ahead with its bid regardless.

Approaching the same question from another angle, Dr Singh told the media on Wednesday, "You saw the amount of applause  a reference to our bid got when I spoke before the joint session of Congress yesterday."

"In our discussions, the president did not at any point deny that countries like India have a legitimate place in the United Nations Security Council. He told me only that he felt the priorities of reform should lie elsewhere, and that reform of the Security Council could be part of a later process."

"I do not have any direct assurance on this," Dr Singh said, "but I have the feeling that we have created during this visit a conducive atmosphere, that will help the US view our bid more favourably at the right time."

While the media interaction was devoted largely to bilateral issues, the PM occasionally touched on his domestic agenda, outlining his vision of India as the world's knowledge hub of the 21st century, and identifying water as the single biggest priority area to focus on, in order to accelerate India's development.

Referring to agriculture, the PM said during the 14 months his government has been in office, he had commissioned an extensive survey of agricultural research in the country.

The sense he had, he said, was that while agricultural universities in Chennai and elsewhere had done 'excellent work', the impetus of research had plateaued in recent times, that research was no longer being accorded top priority.

Referring to the agricultural initiatives outlined in the joint statement, the PM said it was his hope that the new initiatives announced in partnership with the US would usher in the second phase of India's green revolution.

Asked how his stay in the US and the various initiatives agreed upon between the two nations would benefit the common man, Dr Singh pointed out that the leitmotif of all agreements was India's economic progress. "And if our economy improves, it will be the single greatest boon to the toiling masses."


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