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PM Singh was reluctant to sign nuclear deal: Rice

Washington: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was initially reluctant to give the go ahead to the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and even did not want to see the then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice because he did not want to say no to her. But it was the persuasive skills of Rice that he agreed to it when almost everyone in the Bush administration had given up on the "deal of a lifetime."

The little-known, but critical insight, into how the nuclear deal was negotiated and inked is mentioned by Rice in her latest book `No Higher Honor` which is scheduled to hit the stands on November 1. "I woke up at 4.30 am and sat straight up in bed. I am not letting this go down, I thought," Rice writes in her book, recollecting the early hours of the day when Singh was to meet the then US President George W Bush at his Oval Office in the White House.

A day earlier, but for Rice, the entire Bush administration had given up on the nuclear deal, which the White House was desperately pushing for. In fact, contrary to perception, the then Foreign Minister Natwar Singh was in favour of the deal, but the Prime Minister was not as he was not sure if he can sell it in New Delhi.

"Natwar was adamant. He wanted the deal, but the Prime Minister wasn`t sure he could sell it in New Delhi. We pushed as far as we could toward agreement. Finally, Natwar said that he would take the document to the Prime Minister and let me know," Rice writes in the 784-page book.  "The Foreign Minister tried, but the Prime Minister just can`t sign on to the agreement," the then Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns is quoted as saying to Rice after Natwar Singh made a final pitch for the agreement with the Prime Minister.

"I called President Bush. It isn`t going to work. Singh just can`t make it happen,` I said. `Too bad,` he answered and didn`t press further. Later that night Nick called to tell me what I already knew, there wouldn`t be a deal," Rice writes. As Rice woke up early in morning of the Bush-Singh meeting, she was a bit tensed but determined not to let this happen. She made a final effort to personally meet the Prime Minister and pitch for the deal.

"`I am not prepared to let this fail. Arrange for me to see the Prime Minister, I said. The meeting with the President was set for 10. `How about breakfast at eight?` Nick called while I was exercising to say that the Prime Minister didn`t want to meet. `Get the Foreign Minister,` I

answered. Natwar picked up the phone. My heart was beating pretty fast, maybe from the exercise, may be from the sense of an important initiative slipping through my fingers. Natwar, why won`t the PM see me?" she wrote.

"`He doesn`t want to tell you no`, Natwar Singh said. `I`ve done my best`. I told him that the United States wants to take this thirty-year millstone from around your neck. You should do it. But he can`t sell it in New Delhi. "I wasn`t ready to surrender. `Ask him again,` I pleaded. A few minutes later, Natwar called to say that the Prime Minister would receive me at his hotel at 8 am," Rice wrote. Rice went to the Willard Hotel, where the Prime Minister was staying, to meet him. But before going there, she called Bush that she was going to meet Singh to make a final effort. Natwar Singh was the only other person in that room.

`Mr Prime Minister, this is the deal of a lifetime. You and President Bush are about to put US-Indian relations on a fundamentally new footing. I know it`s hard for you, but it`s hard for the President too. I didn`t come here to negotiate the language, only to ask you to tell your officials to get this done. And let`s get it done before you see the President`.

"Prime Minister Singh, a mild-mannered man who speaks slowly and softly, pushed back and eventually gave his nod to his people to try again," Rice wrote. A jubilant Rice drove directly to the White House from the Willard, a block away, to tell the President about the good news. "When the Indians arrived, our negotiators and theirs sat in the Roosevelt Room, trying to find agreement, while the President, Prime Minister Singh, Natwar and I sat nervously in the Oval pretending to focus on other matters.

"Finally, I got a note to join the negotiators. Natwar and I entered the room to the smiling Nick Burns and his counterpart. `We`ve got it,` Nick said," Rice wrote. Soon thereafter, Singh and Bush released the framework agreement to the press, "most of whom were already writing stories of failure," she wrote.

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