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'N-deal failure will hit ties'

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
February 22, 2006 18:13 IST
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The Bush Administration has warned lawmakers that the budding US-India relationship will be severely harmed if the civilian nuclear deal between the two nations is not consummated.

The statement was contained in a brief of nearly 90 written replies, running into over 120 pages, to questions posed by Senator Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, who heads the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and members of the panel. The Administration's responses were made available exclusively to rediff-India Abroad.

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Responding in mid-January to questions submitted to the Administration in November 2005, Under Secretaries Nicholas Burns and Robert Joseph state that 'The initiative to reach civil nuclear cooperation with India recasts one of the most divisive issues of our relationship, and is viewed by many in India as a litmus test for our strategic relationship.

'If Congress does not approve provisions for India related to nuclear energy, it is likely that the nuclear issue will continue to constrain our diplomatic relationship, as well as our strategic, commercial, defense and scientific ties, thereby having a negative impact on many of the bilateral activities mentioned in the July 18 Joint Statement.'

The two Administration officials clarify that India has not said it will view the partnership negatively if Congress does not approve the deal. However, says Burns, New Delhi has 'expressed concern about achieving extensive advances in the future of US-India relations if either side does not complete its Joint Statement commitments.'

Asked if the entire menu of agreements between the two countries will be sacrificed if Congress conditioned nuclear commerce with India on things not detailed in the Joint Statement, Joseph says 'Based on our interactions with the Indian government, we believe that additional conditions such as implementing a moratorium on fissile material production (which the nonproliferation lobby has been urging Congress to demand before if looks upon favorably on the deal), ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and/or joining the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) as a non-nuclear weapon state would likely be deal-breakers.'

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Joseph states that 'The initiative to reach civil nuclear cooperation with India will remove one of the most divisive issues in our bilateral relationship,' and reinforces Burns' contention that 'if the civil aspects of the Joint Statement are not realized, we believe that our diplomatic relationship and our strategic, commercial and scientific ties will remain constrained; many of the bilateral activities delineated in the Statement will be adversely affected.

'The critical point,' says Joseph, 'is that we must resist the temptation to pile-on conditions that will prejudice our ability to realize the important and long-standing nonproliferation objectives embodied in the Joint Statement. We assess that additional conditions such as those specified remain deal breakers for India.

'We are better off with India undertaking the nonproliferation commitments to which it has now agreed than in allowing status quo stalemates to prevail.'

Joseph makes the case that the Joint Statement signed July 18, 2005 by President George W Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is good for both nations, and predicts that when implemented, it 'offers a net gain for global nonproliferation efforts.'

Thus, he argues, it would be better to lock in the deal at this point, and then seek further results as the partnership prospers.

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Asked by Lugar whether it would be a good idea to include, when passing the appropriate direction, a codicil that India should undertake not to test any more nuclear weapons, Joseph acknowledges that 'In principle, making new US law or waivers contingent on India fulfilling its commitments in the Joint Statement is a sound idea.

'As reflected in its pledge in the Joint Statement, India has already declared that it will maintain its nuclear testing moratorium. Since to date Pakistan has test-exploded nuclear weapons only in response to Indian nuclear tests, this commitment should help diminish the prospects for further nuclear testing in South Asia.'

Asked whether India would, if the deal is consummated, be eligible for most US exports except equipment, materials, or technology related to enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water production, Joseph – the technical expert in the US duo of interlocutors – says 'We do not export enrichment or reprocessing technology to any state. Therefore, full civil nuclear cooperation with India will not include enrichment of reprocessing technology.'

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He adds that the Administration has 'not yet determined whether such a prohibition would extend to heavy water production.'

Nowhere is the document more revealing that in the Administration's response to a key question. Why, the Senate committee asked, does nuclear energy have to assume such prominence, given there are many other ways whereby the US can forge an effective strategic partnership with India?

In response, Burns says the nuclear deal recasts a divisive issue that has for decades constrained the US-India diplomatic relationship. Further, he says, the deal serves to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime and bolster US efforts to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And, he significantly adds, 'The opening of India's lucrative and growing civil nuclear energy market to US firms could provide jobs for thousands of Americans, and provide India with a vast array of clean and viable options to meet its skyrocketing energy needs.'

'Respect concerns of nuke scientists'

Several of the questions played off the controversy triggered by former senior Energy Department official in the Clinton Administration and nonproliferation expert Leonard Spector bringing up the issue of the Canadian-supplied CIRUS reactor, which he and other nuclear experts have charged helped India divert plutonium, along with US-supplied heavy water, for its nuclear weapons program even though the intent of the CIRUS was for peaceful nuclear purposes.

Though the alleged malfeasance took place in the 1970s, the issue has taken on a life of its own; opponents of the deal point to this incident to undermine India's claim that it has an impeccable nonproliferation track record.

In his response, Joseph notes that after India detonated a nuclear device in 1974, 'The US Government examined whether India's actions were inconsistent with a clause under the 1956 contract stating that heavy water would be used for research into and the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.'

A conclusive answer was not possible, Joseph says, for two reasons: Firstly, it was not possible to determine conclusively whether US-supplied heavy water contributed to the production of the plutonium used for the device India tested in 1974 and secondly, because of a lack of mutual understanding of the scope of the 1956 contract language, the language of which he describes as vague.

Joseph notes that India has not acknowledged to the US that it considered that its use of US-supplied heavy water a violation of the 1956 contract.

What ails the India-US N-deal?

The Administration in its response refused to provide any commitment that it will, as part of the process under the Joint Statement, obtain from India a full, accurate and complete account of the disposition of any US-origin heavy water in India.

'The Administration believes the most productible approach is to focus on India's new commitments under the Joint Statement,' Joseph says, noting that they include 'acceptance of IAEA safeguards, including monitoring and inspections of its civil nuclear facilities and programs, and agreement to sign and implement the Additional Protocol, which provides for broadened access to locations and information regarding nuclear and nuclear-related activities.'

Asked if India would declare CIRUS as a civilian reactor and whether, in that case, any plutonium produced there needs to be removed from the stocks that India has set aside for weapons production and placed under permanent IAEA safeguards, Joseph says the Administration does not at the time of writing have from India a list of which reactors it will label civilian.

'The details of the safeguards agreement which India has undertaken to negotiate with the IAEA will presumably follow. However, as most such agreements are not retroactive, we would not expect the agreement to specify that previously-produced material must be returned to the plant in order to be placed under safeguards.'

Joseph points out that however, 'Were the plant to be placed under safeguards, those safeguards would be applicable in perpetuity to any material produced by, used by, or stored in the plant after the effective date of the agreement.'

Burns and Joseph inform the Senate committee that if India 'makes demonstrable progress in implementing key Joint Statement commitments — with the presentation of a credible, transparent, and defensible separation plan foremost on the list', that would envisage approval by Congress, 'we will be ready to engage with our NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) partners in developing a formal proposal to allow the shipment of Trigger List items and related technology to properly safeguarded facilities in India.'

'N-deal ends nuclear isolation'

Only after India has developed a transparent and credible civil-military plan for its nuclear facilities and programs and has begun to implement it, Burns and Joseph told the committee, would the Administration seek 'appropriate legislative solutions' from Congress to facilitate implementation of the deal.

'Ideally,' they state, 'US law would be properly adjusted before the Nuclear Suppliers Group Guidelines are adjusted.'

Burns and Joseph state, further, that when considering appropriate legislation, 'the Administration prefers stand-alone, India-specific legislation, but could envision alternatives as well', and promise 'continuing consultations with both the Senate and the House in the coming weeks.'

Complete Coverage: India-United States nuclear deal

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC