Manmohan Singh told his team to “call off” the Indo-US civil nuclear deal a night before its scheduled announcement by President George Bush after the Americans proposed to let India have just two of its nuclear reactors out of the international safeguards, a top aide of the former Prime Minister has said.
The disclosure was made by former national security advisor M K Narayanan yesterday after former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice told a Washington audience that the then PM called off the deal a night before its scheduled announcement on June 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 June 17-18, Manmohan Singh had called off the deal. I think there were very valid reasons,” Narayanan said 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 organised 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,” Narayanan said.
“And therefore the position that night was… the PM’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,” he added.
As the news reached the White House, Bush sent Rice to Willard Hotel where Singh was staying. Narayanan said Rice met the then External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh.
Once the Americans agreed on a figure that was acceptable to Indians, the PM gave his go-ahead for the deal, he said.