Ronen Sen's interview

Ambassador Sen: 'We will have zero credibility'

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

August 20, 2007 12:07 IST


last Updated:
August 20, 2007 16:03 IST

India's Ambassador to the United States, Ronen Sen -- a key protagonist of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement, and the architect behind scripting the resurrection of the 123 Agreement as it lay virtually dormant for several months -- is quite aghast at the opposition to the deal from the Left parties, not to mention the Bharatiya Janata Party's attempts to torpedo it.

Warning that if the deal begins to unravel because of this opposition it would impact heavily on India's credibility and have grave implications for US-India relations in the future, Sen told Rediff India Abroad that the Hyde Amendment -- which has already been signed into law -- cannot be renegotiated. He declared that it would be a pity if the agreement is not operationalised before the end of the Bush Administration's tenure, because as in the prime minister's words there has not been, and unlikely to be in the near future, a President as friendly and supportive of India as President George W Bush [Images].

Sen said, "If you really look at it (the 123 Agreement), every single (concern) has been met," particularly with regard to reprocessing and assurances of fuel supplies to India's reactors even in the hypothetical case of India conducting a nuclear test, even though there has been no mention of 'testing' in the text।

"What is in the agreement which they are not satisfied with?" he asked। "Not one," and noted that such an agreement was unprecedented in the annals of India's history since its independence 60 years ago.

"All that is in the agreement," he said, "There is no precedence in the United States" either where such an agreement has been so transparent. "Even before it is signed, we made it public -- and that is the most authoritative."

"It has been approved here (in Washington, DC) by the President, and there (in New Delhi) it's been approved by the Indian cabinet. So why do you have all this running around like headless chicken, looking for a comment here or comment there, and these little storms in a tea-cup?"

Sen said he couldn't understand "why we don't have a little bit of confidence," and said he was "really amazed" over the current drama and debate being played out in New Delhi.

"I can understand (such a debate) immediately after independence," he said. "But 60 years after independence! I am really bothered that 60 years after independence, they are so insecure -- that we have not grown up, this lack of confidence and lack of self-respect."

Sen continued to reiterate that this was not a secret document but "a public document," and the fact that it was made available in the public domain "is unprecedented."

He argued that there seems "to be this gap between perception and reality," and said what the critics of the deal don't apparently comprehend is "the enormity of this change. That a country (the United States), which had taken the lead in setting up a regime (the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) where India was targeted, is taking the lead again to exempt India.'

"There has been no parallel of a single country exemption to any of the international regimes," he recalled, "not in the 21st century, the 20th, 19th, 18th, 17th, 16th, in any century. All what we are doing is absolutely unprecedented."

Sen said he simply couldn't understand the argument that India was "getting too close" to the United States, and said, "We are talking of the leading technological country in the world" which everybody else seems to have cottoned on to, "but our people have not or maybe they don't want to believe it."

He asserted that there can be no talk at all vis-�-vis the re-negotiation of the Hyde Amendment. "That's an issue that cannot even be considered."

Sen pointed out that "it is the law of the land," since President Bush has already signed it. "The law is very, very clear. It's on the books."

He said if India tries to re-negotiate this legislation, it would "have zero credibility."

"Can you imagine anybody telling us that this act of your Parliament has not been accepted by the United States and so you have to introduce new legislation and tell your Parliament that the legislation that has been adopted is not acceptable? You won't have any credibility."

According to the envoy, if this deal is not operationalised because the clock runs out in the wake of all the opposition in India and calls for special committees to review it and everything else, even after it has been made public and endorsed by both the US president and the Indian cabinet, "it would be a pity because what the prime minister said is very true -- that we will not, and there has not been and I don't think in the near future we will see such a friend and supporter as this President. Absolutely. There is none."

Sen said if the deal falls through, the implications would indeed be grave for US-India relations, and the entire broad-based agenda envisaged between both countries would be adversely impacted.

He argued that it was because of the excitement over this deal and what it could envisage for the strategic partnership between the US and India that had resulted in the proliferation of visits to India by leading CEOs of American companies. In the past few years, he pointed out, "There has been a quadrupling of visits to India by Senators and Congressmen, there has been a quadrupling of visits by presidents of universities, chancellors leading teams to India. Airlines like Delta, Continental deciding to have direct flights to India."

"So nothing happens by accident. It's not just symbolic. It's much, much more. But will we be able to get benefits out of all that, without this (nuclear agreement)?"

Sen asserted that "all of this is inter-linked. We cannot insulate this. People don't seem to realise that."

Meanwhile, senior diplomatic observers in Washington, DC, slammed the critics of the deal, particularly the BJP, saying that they obviously had made up their minds to oppose the agreement even before they saw the veritable iron-clad 123 Agreement, which was very much in favour of India in terms of addressing all of its concerns with regard to issues like reprocessing and assurances of continued fuel supplies to its civilian nuclear reactors.

"If you remember, people like (former minister) Yashwant Sinha reacted even before they saw the text. So obviously, they had made up their minds in advance, irrespective of even what we got."

The observers said, "The cat was out of the bag because they made their opposition clear even without seeing the text, even though they knew it's going to be made public and were informed of it."

One diplomatic observer, pointing to the BJP's assertions that it would abrogate the agreement if it came into power, recalled that none of the BJP's initiatives and reforms while in government could have been implemented "without Congress's support. They never would have been able to get it through."

Thus, according to this observer, it was beyond his comprehension that the BJP could be "so irresponsible," with statements such as abrogating the agreement if it assumed the reins of power.

"The opposition is supposed to be responsible, and here they are talking of, 'If we come to power, we'll abrogate the agreement'!"

The observer asked, "Has that ever been done? If you look at India in its 60 years, one thing that distinguishes India from any other country in any continent, is that we have always honoured our commitments."

"We have faced every challenge conceivable -- assassinations of political leaders, starting with Mahatma Gandhi [Images], border conflicts, natural disasters of unprecedented magnitude, oil shocks, economic crises, and we've had revolving door governments -- Chandra Shekhar, H D Deve Gowda, Inder Kumar Gujral -- but no government, no successor government, had changed (any agreement). We have always honoured our commitment. This is what distinguishes India -- not just that it is a democracy."

The observer argued that statements such as those warning of the abrogation of agreements "is absolutely going against -- flying against -- your own national interest and the way you are perceived."

"There was only one instance, when after an election a state government changed one contract, and that is Enron. (But) That was a state government. At the central level, none, not one, and that is the one thing that distinguishes us."

Thus, he argued that such statements, "are haphazard, like a childish tantrum saying, we are going to abrogate it, they don't even seem to be aware of what they are saying, the import of what they are saying।".

http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/aug/20inter.htm

Comments

Anonymous said…
An interview by Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen to rediff.com Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa in Washington on the Indo-US nuclear deal created an uproar in Parliament and led to disruptions in both Houses.

The following is the log of proceedings in the Lok Sabha.

The Lok Sabha began on Tuesday with interruptions.

Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Basubeb Acharya of Left party told Speaker Somnath Chatterjee: "Sir, today it has appeared � (interruptions)"

Speaker: "It has become very difficult to run this House. Please listen. I have got one notice for suspension of the Question Hour from Professor Vijay Kumar Malhotra."

Interruptions

Speaker continues, "I take it that the matter is the alleged statement or remarks made by our Ambassador in the USA."

Again interruptions.

Another member from Left Rupchand Pal said, "Sir, I have also given a notice on this."

Speaker told him: "You are so much upset that you did not give notice in time."

House remained interrupted.

Speaker then told the House: "Please listen. We have got information from the government. A statement, which the honourable minister of external affairs wishes to make, is before me. In the statement, there has been a denial of this report. Since, all of you are agitated on the same issue, let the honourable minister of external affairs make his statement."

Interruptions continue.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra: "Sir, please allow me to speak now."

Again one could not hear anything.

The statement regarding clarification on the purported statement by Indian Ambassador in Washington on the civil nuclear energy co-operation agreement was placed in House.

Speaker: "Let the honourable minister make his statement. After all, we cannot act only on the newspaper report."

Again the house was non-functional due to interruptions.

Speaker tells staff reporters: "Do not record even one word."

(Interruptions, not recorded)

Speaker is upset about the indiscipline.

He tells members of the BJP and Left parties, "After his statement, if you have anything to say, you can say. On the basis of an imaginary alleged statement, you cannot go on holding the House to ransom."

Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee: "Sir, after listening to my statement, they can speak."

But, again are interruptions.

Speaker agreed and said: "After hearing the minister's statement, you can speak."

But members of the House are agitated over an interview by Ronen Sen to rediff.com.

Speaker again: "What are you doing? You have become most indisciplined now-a-days. After listening to the minister's statement, if you have anything to say, you can say, and I will permit you to say that."

After a few minutes, Mukherjee says: "Mr Speaker, sir, members would have seen reports in the press today about a purported statement by our ambassador in Washington about the consideration of the India-US bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement. I have contacted our ambassador who has informed me that certain comments, either deliberately or through misunderstanding, were published by the correspondent. The correspondent has also misquoted our ambassador in several respects. I have asked our ambassador to issue a clarification. These comments, if made by our ambassador, and reported correctly, are totally unwarranted and unacceptable. In democracy, there will always be dissension and divergence of opinions. Nobody can accuse others who hold divergent views. I regret the alleged comments which have hurt the feelings of the honourable members. Most respectfully I would like to submit this."

BJP and Left parties leaders were not satisfied.

Speaker invited Leader of the Opposition L K Advani. But, he could be hardly heard.

CPI's Gurudas Dasgupta demanded that, "Sir, the ambassador should be removed."

Again, proceedings get stalled.

Speaker: "You are behaving like irresponsible people. I am sorry to say that. The minister has placed entirely the government's stand on this. He has already said that it is unwarranted if it has been said. He has denied it in the statement. You wait for this. Can you behave like this in anticipation?"

Telegu Desam Party's Khrinjarapu Yerrannaidu: "Sir, it is very shameful."

Speaker: "If he (Ambassador Sen) has said that, I shall take action. Parliament is not so powerless. Please sit down. Only one newspaper, not even a news agency, has reported."

Advani: "Mr Speaker, Sir, so far as the government's stand is concerned, I have no complaint. But I would like this House to know and to have the full text of the interview that has been given to this particular channel, namely, Rediffnews, (rediff.com) because simply denying and saying: 'It is not exactly what I have said' would not be enough. Many people may have been shocked to hear that MPs, who have been opposing this deal, have been described as 'headless chickens'� (Interruptions)

Speaker requests Advani to wait. He said: "Honourable Leader of the Opposition, let us wait for the text."

Advani agreed.

Speaker to Advani: "I would allow you at that time. Let it be confirmed."

Advani: "I would urge the leader of the House that let the House be given the full text of the interview that the ambassador has given. After that, we will make a considered comment on it; and then demand whatever action we think appropriate."

Speaker: "That is fair enough. Let the statement come."

(Interruptions)

At this point of time Left leader Mohmmad Salim said, "Sir, this interview was carried on the website www.rediff.com. So, it is not the question of 'let the copy come.' It is already circulated in the world! The comments are made. This is a systematic design, I am telling you, sir... (Interruptions)

Speaker: "You are speaking without my permission. No, I will not allow this anymore. We cannot react on the basis of newspaper report unless it is authenticated. No sorry."

Speaker kept saying: "No, I cannot allow this."

Then when the interruptions continued, he said: 'Honourable members, please cooperate. It has already been said by the honourable minister of external affairs that 'these comments, if made by our ambassador, and reported correctly, are totally unwarranted and unacceptable.' And, I have given you my word that I shall take action against it. What more can be done now?"

(Interruptions)

Speaker: "Do not record even one word. Let the country see what is happening in the House. I have assured you that I would take action; the Parliament of India is not that powerless at all. Nobody can go scot-free. Already the minister has condemned it, if it is found to have been said. We never take action on a newspaper report unless it is authenticated. (interruptions) No, I will not allow this. I cannot devalue this House."

EhE

When BJP leaders continued their opposition to Sen's remarks the Speaker said: "Your leader has spoken. I appreciate the stand taken by the honourable leader of the opposition. He has rightly asked for a full copy of the statement, and after that, he said, he reserves his right. I have considered that. I will give opportunity to everybody after the statement comes, and you see that."

(more interruptions)

Speaker: "No, I am sorry. It seems that you are not willing to work. The House stands adjourned till 11.30 am"

The Lok Sabha then adjourned for 30 minutes. Lok Sabha again assembled at 11.30.

It began with more interruptions.

Speaker: "You are not prepared to allow the House to run. Are you prepared to allow the House to run or not?"

Interruptions and more interruptions. The House adjourned till 2 pm

When again it assembled Deputy Speaker C J Chatwal was in the chair.

Basubeb Acharya: "We have submitted a privilege motion against India's Ambassador to the United States Shri Ronen Sen for making derogatory remarks against Members of Parliament."

House again sees chaos.

Gurudas Dasgupta: "Sir, I have also given a notice of privilege against the India's Ambassador to the United States."

CPI-M's Varkala Radhakrishnan: 'I have also given a privilege notice. Prima facie, he has committed a breach of privilege, and a notice has been given by me� (interruptions)

Speaker: "Please sit down. Your notice is under consideration.

By this time a statement is made regarding communication received from Indian Ambassador in Washington regarding his comments on the Civil Nuclear Energy cooperation agreement.

Pranab Mukherjee addresses the Deputy Speaker: "Mr Deputy-Speaker, sir, most respectfully I would like to submit that in the morning I shared the information with the honourable members, and I am grateful to them that they allowed me to make my observations. Of course, the honourable members have their own view as this is a matter on which every individual member has his views, and they can express it. Every honourable member is entitled to resort to even the parliamentary course of redressal like privilege or other things whatever they like to do. I am not going to interfere with that. Most respectfully I am sharing with the House whatever information that I am having with me. I have received another communication from Ambassador Sen. With your permission, I would like to share that information with the honourable members. This is the observation, which Ambassador Sen has sent to me. It reads as follows: 'I have received several queries about a report datelined Washington DC, August 20, 2007 by Aziz Haniffa of Rediff India Abroad, which quoted me extensively on the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement.

'I had an off-the-record conversation with the correspondent giving some assessments on this subject. A number of the comments were, however, either misunderstood or misquoted or quoted out of context. For instance, I did not say that the Hyde Act could not be renegotiated, but said that the bilateral agreement could not, in my view, be renegotiated. With reference to the Hyde Act, I had expressed my assessment it would not be amended in the foreseeable future. Some of the comments attributed to me in this off-the-record conversation were made by me in my personal capacity and do not reflect the positions of the government'."

House witnesses interruptions.There was shouts no, no. no!

Mukherjee: "Please let me complete. You do whatever you like, but let me complete. It will not take even one minute. Please listen to me. 'I fully recognise that such personal views, even in a private conversation, should have been expressed with better judgment and due decorum. For instance, my comment about 'running around like a headless chicken looking for a comment here or a comment there' was a tactless observation on some of my media friends and most certainly not with reference to any honourable Member of Parliament. It was certainly not my intention to cast aspersions on any individual or organisation. However, if I have unwittingly hurt any sentiments, I offer my unqualified apologies'. Thank you."

There was so much noise that Deputy Speaker said that nothing will go on record.

And, after waiting for few minutes he adjourned House to meet on August, 22.
Anonymous said…
On August 20, 2007, w www.rediff.com published an interview with India's Ambassador to the United States Ronen Sen titled 'We will have zero credibility'.

On 21 august , Members of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties objected to some of the ambassador's comments in the interview, and disrupted Parliament's proceedings.

Following the uproar, Ambassador Sen has sent us a message which we reproduce below:

I have received several queries about a report datelined Washington DC, August 20, 2007, by Mr Aziz Haniffa of Rediff India Abroad, which quoted me extensively on the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement.

I had an off-the-record conversation with the correspondent giving some assessments on this subject. A number of the comments were, however, either misunderstood or misquoted or quoted out of context. For instance, I did not say that the Hyde Act could not be renegotiated, but said that the bilateral agreement could not, in my view, be renegotiated. With reference to the Hyde Act, I had expressed my assessment it would not be amended in the foreseeable future.

Some of the comments attributed to me in this off-the-record conversation were, however, made by me in my personal capacity and do not reflect the positions of the government. I fully recognize that such personal views, even in a private conversation, should have been expressed with better judgement and due decorum. For instance, my comment about "running round like headless chicken looking for a comment here or comment there" was a tactless observation on some of my media friends, and most certainly not with reference to any Hon'ble Member of Parliament. It was certainly not my intention to cast aspersion on any individual or organization. However, if I have unwittingly hurt any sentiments, I offer my unqualified apologies.

Rediff India Abroad Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa replies:

Ambassador Ronen Sen made these comments when I called him by phone on Sunday (August 19) morning at his residence to get his thoughts on the debate in New Delhi over the US-India civilian nuclear agreement and the recent accord reached by India and the United States on the 123 Agreement.

At no point of the conversation did the ambassador specify that it was off-the-record or even on background.

I have had a very good relationship with Ambassador Sen ever since he was posted in Washington, and we regularly talk to each other on various aspects of the US-India relationship, and whenever he has said a conversation is off-the-record or on background, I have always honored these ground rules.

But on this occasion, I repeat, he did not specify that our conversation was off-the-record or on background, and hence, I unambiguously and unequivocally stand by my report and state categorically that nothing in it was either deliberate, malicious or misunderstood or misquoted, because I have nothing but the highest respect for him.
Anonymous said…
The Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Bharatiya Janata Party on 21 AUGUST moved privilege motions in both Houses of Parliament against Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen for his reported "unwarranted" and "derogatory" comments on Parliamentarians.

The privilege notice came after Left MPs along with opposition Bharatiya Janata Party members stalled proceedings in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha demanding Sen's removal for his comments "casting grave aspersions against Parliamentarians."

The notice by CPI-M was given in Lok Sabha by Basudeb Acharia, Varkala Radhakrishnan, P Karunakaran and Rupchand Pal. Prasanta Chatterjee, Moinul Hassan, Matilal Sarkar, Tapan Sen, P Madhu and T K Ray in gave the notice in Rajya Sabha.

Reacting to Sen's remarks, CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat in Hyderabad said that he be recalled "if the government has any self-respect."

Taking strong exception to Sen's reported remarks, the BJP also gave notices of privilege against the diplomat in Parliament, demanding that he not only be recalled, but also summoned before the bar of the House and "admonished."

While Leader of the Opposition Lal Kishenchand Advani had given the notice for privilege motion in the Lok Sabha, former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, who has been named in Sen's statement, did so in the Rajya Sabha, BJP leaders V K Malhotra and Sushma Swaraj informed newspersons.

Earlier, the issue rocked both Houses of Parliament with the opposition seeking suspension of the Question Hour to debate the matter, which they described as highly objectionable and serious.

Malhotra said the opposition was not at all satisfied with the clarification given by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee who read out a statement sent to the government by Sen. "In fact, the defence given by the ambassador was more objectionable and atrocious and he cannot get away by saying that he spoke off the record, trying to put the blame on the media," he said.

Swaraj said Sen's plea could not be accepted as "he meant what he said." By saying that he was referring to the media in his conversation, "Sen attempted to open up another front." He had not implicated the critics alone, but also those publishing it, she said.

She said the ambassador had attacked both the Left parties and the BJP by stating that he was aghast by the Left's opposition and the BJP's torpedoing the nuclear deal.

"It displays the contempt he has for the opponents of the deal," she said.

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