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Rebalancing the N-deal

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June 14, 2006 17:51 IST
The American penchant for inventive terminology has produced a new strategy for 'rebalancing' the India-US nuclear deal, which is fast nearing its first anniversary.

Even its worst critics agree that there is a balance of rights and obligations for both sides in the agreement and, therefore, any balancing of it may sound unreasonable and hence the call for rebalancing.

The suggestion has not come either from non-proliferationists or from political analysts, but from two scientists, though with the weight of a Council for Foreign Relations report.

Exclusive to 'Endorse, reinforce nuclear deal'

The proposal will go against the intentions of the Bush administration to get the Senate and House bills passed without delay and also against the Indian position that the US should quickly fulfill the obligation on its part to change the relevant US laws.

But the suggested modality maintains the integrity of the package and, at the time, gives time to the Congress to tighten non-proliferation measures without halting bilateral co-operation with India.

No new conditions on N-deal: US

The greatest merit of the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) report is that it involves no renegotiation of the July 2005 and March 2006 agreements. Given the stark choice between approving the deal and damaging non-proliferation and rejecting the deal and putting back the clock on an important strategic relationship, the United States Congress should proceed to accept the framework of the agreement and allow dispatch of fuel and construction to proceed and defer final legislation till satisfactory agreements are in place.

The US Congress should underline the positive elements in the Indian position such as the commitment to the moratorium on testing, strong export controls, the separation, including the agreement not to designate new facilities as military. It should also reconcile to the fact that there will be no capping of the Indian nuclear arsenal or cessation of production of fissile material.

The layman's guide to the Indo-US pact

While doing so, it should indicate a set of bottom line requirements with regard to the bilateral agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and the changes in the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines, which are still under consideration.

In other words, the US Congress should seek to monitor the actual implementation of the agreement rather than block the agreement itself.

The Council for Foreign Relations approach is refreshingly different from the latest assertion of the non-proliferationist gurus that the Bush administration has doubled in the case of India, the bet it had made in Iraq. They keep repeating that the India deal will threaten the NPT regime as the loosening of controls will benefit others, the agreement will lead to further testing by India, triggering a chain reaction and weaken the US Congress and future American presidents in their pursuit of non-proliferation.

They want India to be part of the moratorium on fissile material production, join Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the US Congress itself has rejected and agree to the inspection in perpetuity without insisting on perpetual supply of fuel. They surmise that India will not do Washington's bidding, especially in matters relating to Iran. The Federation of American Scientists is already poised to declare opposition to the current nuclear deal.

The contradictory signals not withstanding, the general feeling in Washington is that the bills will pass in the Senate and the House, if they are put to a vote, as the majority of the Senators and Congressmen will side with the proposals of the administration.

But there is a significant opinion that favours a delay in the belief that a less than enthusiastic adoption of the measures will be counterproductive. A two stage approach will, it is believed, will help to build up virtually unanimous support for the agreement.

From India's perspective, this should not be a major concern.

For India, undue postponement of the vote in the Congress can only cause embarrassment. The suspicion that the Americans are not reliable partners will only aggravate the opposition to the deal by the right and the left in India.

'No N-deal if there's arms race'

Possibility of resumption of testing by India is seen as a greater danger than accretion to the Indian arsenal. The Council for Foreign Relations report assumes that continued production of fissile material and even addition of nuclear warheads by India will not complicate matters, while a resumption of tests by India will prompt Pakistan and China to remove their present restraint. Further sophistication of Chinese weapons may result in development of weapons technology, which will threaten the United States directly.

It is for this reason that emphasis is placed on cessation of nuclear cooperation the moment India resumes testing. There is a move even to stipulate that India should return any material or equipment acquired during the period of operation of the agreement. Such cessation should, of course, be subject to the discretion of the President and the US Congress. The logic of such a provision is incontrovertible and we should have a similar facility of going our own way if the US violates any of the clauses of the agreement.

India won't test but won't sign on it

The Congressional hearings threw up the interesting point that the Bush administration could have implemented the nuclear agreement with India without seeking to amend the law. A joint resolution adopted by a simple majority by the Senate and the House would have sufficed for the purpose. The way suggested by the Council for Foreign Relations report is on the same lines, except that there will be a commitment on the part of the Congress to change the law when the other requirements are fulfilled.

India has rightly taken the position, most recently outlined by the minister for industry in Washington, that we will not accept any changes in the agreements of July 2005 and March 2006. The draft of the 123 Agreement suggested by the US side and our counter draft, said to have been handed over in London by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, are not available to the public. But our stand cannot be different from what the prime minister has outlined in Parliament.

If the United States proposes to follow the path suggested by the Council for Foreign Relations report, it should be of no concern to India because it will ensure immediate delivery of fuel and equipment in terms of the civilian nuclear agreement.

Ambassador T P Sreenivasan retired from the Indian Foreign Service recently. He served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian embassy in Washington, DC and also as India's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
T P Sreenivasan