William Burns recently published a piece in the Atlantic about his role in the India 123 agreement negotiations.
Selling the agreement in international forums was mostly an exercise in blunt-force diplomacy with little of the practiced finesse that so often consumes the profession. I have sheepish memories of waking senior European officials in the middle of the night to obtain an exception for India from the Nuclear Suppliers Group. I didn’t belabor the technical arguments, nor did I really try to do much convincing. This was about power, and we were exercising it—hardly endearing ourselves to groggy partners, but impressing our Indian counterparts with the strength of America’s commitment to get this done.
The whole initiative was not an easy call—not for foreign capitals and not for the U.S. Congress. Questions remained about just how aligned India would be with us, how significant the costs of the India exception would be to nuclear diplomacy and the broader nuclear-nonproliferation regime, and whether the economic benefits for the American nuclear industry would ever live up to the hype. Proponents of the civil-nuclear deal tended to overstate the promise and understate the risk. Critics did the opposite, and were then lambasted by Indian officials as “nuclear ayatollahs” whose nonproliferation zeal blinded them to wider possibilities. Bush’s decision, nevertheless, was bold and smart.
I distinctly remember telling a commenter on ACW (IIRC) that they ought not use phrases like “nuclear ayatollahs.” .
Anyway, Burns’ account is consistent with a 2008 memorandum that he wrote for then-Sec State Rice. Here’s an excerpt: