By Arun Kumar, IANS
Washington : The United States says it considers relations with both India and Pakistan as important but the accord to implement India-US civil nuclear deal is a clear recognition of a "real difference" between them.
Washington "also wants to see a dialogue between India and Pakistan, dialogue that has expanded and has grown under the leadership of President Pervez Musharraf and others," State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Monday.
But "…this is not something that should be viewed as an action that we take with India that somehow requires a similar action in the case of Pakistan," he said in response to a question suggesting that Pakistan had test-fired another missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons to "challenge" the deal.
"And I think we've also been very clear that because of the issues with proliferation from Pakistan, that it's a very different situation between those two countries. And the fact that we have this agreement with India now is a clear recognition that there is a real difference," Casey added.
Repeating US Under Secretary of State Nick Burns' remarks Friday on the formalisation of the 123 agreement, "the critical piece required under our law" to implement the nuclear deal, he said, "we believe that we have a relationship with India that's important and we have a relationship with Pakistan that's important."
"In the case of India, we've moved forward with this arrangement because, as the President said and as you heard from Nick on Friday, India has been a responsible actor. It's been outside the non-proliferation regimes, but it's actually behaved responsibly. It hasn't proliferated weapons technology. It hasn't done anything to undermine international assurances," Casey said.
The US, he said, wanted to be able to bring India into the mainstream "and what we've done with this agreement overall, as well as with the specific step of the 123 agreement, is take us one more step closer towards bringing the vast majority of India's nuclear capabilities, specifically, their civilian nuclear side, into the non-proliferation mainstream.
"And we believe that's something that strengthens non-proliferation regimes throughout the world. It's something that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei believes so as well. And so we're going to continue with this agreement and continue with it based on those very rationale and logic behind it," Casey said.
US has "a very important relationship with Pakistan" too, he said, "We particularly have it with respect to what is our number-one national priority, which is working around the world to combat the threat of terrorism posed by Al Qaida and other extremist groups. And we're going to continue with that."
Asked if the 123 agreement will be presented to US Congress before it goes into month long summer recess Aug 3, Casey noted that two other things have to happen before this could be done.
"First of all, India has to finalize its safeguards agreement with the IAEA and then secondly, we have to work with our partners in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to develop an exception for India to be able to move forward with that.
"Once those two steps are done, we'll be able to present the formal 123 Agreement with all these accompanying steps to Congress for their review and approval. And I think we're looking at doing that sometime in the fall (October), but obviously, that's contingent on these other two steps moving forward," Casey said.
Asked if Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice could sign the agreement before it went to the Congress, the official said, the agreement itself has now been finalised between the two countries, but "in terms of signing dates or other things, I have to leave it to the lawyers on that one.
"But the important point is, is that we're moving forward with this. We do need to get these other two pieces in place before presenting it to Congress and then we look forward to having an opportunity to discuss it with the members on the Hill and hopefully to see them approve what we believe is a deal that's in the best interests of the United States and the best interests of India," Casey said.
Asked about the current situation in Pakistan and whether US was playing any role in initiating a reported dialogue between Musharraf and former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, Casey parried, "Well, I don't know. It sounds like there's a lot of politics going on in Pakistan and I mean that in a good sense.
"There needs to be accommodations made between the political leadership in Pakistan. Our interest and our goal is seeing that there are free and fair elections that are held and ones in which all legitimate parties can participate," he said.