When Manmohan played hardball with US; threatened to call off N-deal

India's PM Manmohan Singh with the US President George Bush in July, 2005
India's PM Manmohan Singh with the US President George Bush in July, 2005

WASHINGTON (TIP): This disclosure by former national security advisor M K Narayanan was made in Washington on July 14, after former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Washington audience that then Prime Minister Singh called off the deal a night before its scheduled announcement on July 18, 2005 because the opposition parties in India were up in arms against it.

“I just wanted to set the record straight. I know that a view has been widely propounded that on the night of the July 17/18, Manmohan Singh had called off the deal. I think there were very valid reasons,” Narayanan said in his clarification issued during a day-long conference on the 10th anniversary of the landmark civil nuclear deal.

“There was an understanding which had been reached (by the Prime Minister’s Office) with the (US) President’s office that the number of Indian reactors that would be kept out of the international safeguards would be number such and such,” he said at the event organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Confederation of Indian Industry.

“The (US) State Department had a lot of people who wanted to teach India a lesson. By the time the visit was due, the number that was agreed on six to eight was reduced to two. That was the figure that was totally unacceptable from the point of view of the external affairs ministry,” Narayanan said describing the sequence of events on the night of June 17/18 when Singh was visiting the United States.

“And therefore the position that night was… the prime minister’s words, which I might use, at 12.05, if the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Security Advisor are not willing to go along with the figure, let’s call it off and then we will,” Narayanan said.

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Such a decision by the prime minister sent a strong message to the Americans. As the news reached the White House, Bush sent Rice to Willard Hotel where Singh was staying.

According to Narayanan, the prime minister did not want to meet Rice at this point of time as he would not prefer to share this bad news directly.

Rice met the then External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh who then took Rice to the suite of the prime minister.

Once the Americans agreed on a figure that was acceptable to Indians, the prime minister gave his go ahead for the deal, he said.

“I want history to record that this deal would not have gone through from the Indian side without Manmohan Singh being 150 per cent for the deal,” Narayanan said.

Later participating in a panel discussion along with three other former national security advisors from the two countries — Stephen Headley, Tom Donilon and Shivshankar Menon — Narayanan said it was what he called the “suspension of disbelieve” which was the reasons for the two countries to be able to get the civil nuclear deal done.

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