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'We were prepared to walk away from the nuclear agreement'

The United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ambassador R Nicholas Burns -- America's chief interlocutor in the negotiations with India, and the Bush Administration's point man to push through the US-India civilian nuclear agreement in Congress -- has said it was "a challenging negotiation because it involved an esoteric subject, a complex and difficult subject."

Burns, who turned 50 on January 28, denied that the US had given India much more than it got as critics have charged, saying, "We were prepared to walk away from the agreement." But it was a treat negotiating with Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, "a man of great dignity and integrity."

In an exclusive interview with rediff-India Abroad Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa in his expansive and well-appointed sixth floor office in the State Department, adjacent to the office of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Burns was optimistic that Congress would approve the deal in time for the Administration to take it to the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Vienna in May.

You were never an India hand or a South Asia expert, but just one week into your new position as under secretary for political affairs, you became the point man for the United States-India strategic partnership and then as chief negotiator of the civilian nuclear agreement with all of its technicalities. Can you speak about this experience?

It was a challenging negotiation because it involved an esoteric subject - a complex and difficult subject, because as President Bush said when he was in New Delhi, both sides had to make a great leap to make this agreement and both sides had to consider the upsides and downsides very carefully. So, it was a challenging negotiation and the stakes are very high. It is an important issue for the Indian government as it is for my government. Having said that, I very much respected my negotiating partner, Foreign Secretary (Shyam) Saran. He is a man of great dignity and integrity. And I always felt that we had a transparency between the two delegations and we could trust each other and that is a good thing in a negotiation. I was very pleased to be able to wrap it up after eight months of hard work.

Photographs: AFP/Getty Images and Paresh Gandhi

Also See:
Senate, House will introduce identical bills on N-deal: Burns

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