The Bush administration, through a gag order on its written responses to Congressional questions, had sought to keep the Indian public in the dark on the larger implications of the nuclear deal, lest the accord run into rougher weather. But now its 26 pages of written answers have been publicly released by a senior United States Congressman.
The administration's January 2008 letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- made public by Representative Howard L Berman on Tuesday -- bring out the following:
The US has given no binding fuel-supply assurance to India. The prime minister told the Lok Sabha on August 13, 2007 that 'detailed fuel supply assurances' by the US for 'the uninterrupted operation of our nuclear reactors' are 'reflected in full' in the 123 Agreement. But the Bush administration has denied this. Its letter to the House Committee states that the US will render help only in situations where 'disruptions in supply to India... result through no fault of its own,' such as a trade war or market disruptions. 'The fuel supply assurances are not, however, meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test or a violation of nonproliferation commitments,' the letter said. The letter also reveals that the US has given no legally binding fuel-supply assurance of any kind.
No US consent to India's stockpiling of lifetime fuel reserves for safeguarded power reactors. The prime minister had told the Lok Sabha on August 13, 2007 that, 'This Agreement envisages, in consonance with the Separation Plan, US support for an Indian effort to develop a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply for the lifetime of India's reactors.' But the Bush administration's letter to the House Committee makes clear that India will not be allowed to build such stocks as to undercut US leverage to re-impose sanctions.
US civil nuclear cooperation is explicitly conditioned to India not testing ever again. The prime minister told the Lok Sabha as recently as July 22, 2008 that, 'I confirm that there is nothing in these agreements which prevents us from further nuclear tests if warranted by our national security concerns. All that we are committed to is a voluntary moratorium on further testing.'
Last year, he had told Parliament that, 'There is nothing in the Agreement that would tie the hands of a future Government or legally constrain its options to protect India's security and defence needs.' The Bush administration, however, has told the House Committee that India has been left in no doubt that all cooperation will cease immediately if New Delhi conducted a test.
The US has retained the right to suspend or terminate supplies at its own discretion. The Bush administration letter plainly contradicts the prime minister's assertion in Parliament on August 13, 2007 that, 'An elaborate multi-layered consultation process has been included with regard to any future events that may be cited as a reason by either Party to seek cessation of cooperation or termination of the (123) Agreement.' The letter states that the US right to suspend all supplies forthwith is unfettered.
The letter makes clear that the 123 Agreement has granted India no right to take corrective measures in case of any fuel-supply disruption. Rather, India's obligations are legally irrevocable. It further indicates there is no link between perpetual safeguards and perpetual fuel supply. Contrast this with what the prime minister claimed in Parliament on August 13, 2007: 'India's right to take "corrective measures" will be maintained even after the termination of the Agreement.' Or the prime minister's repeated assurances to Parliament since March 2006 that India's acceptance of perpetual international inspections will be tied to perpetual fuel supply.
The Bush administration's letter states that the 123 Agreement fully conforms to the Hyde Act provisions. In a press release recently, the Prime Minister's Office made the following claim on July 2, 2008: 'he 123 Agreement clearly overrides the Hyde Act and this position would be clear to anyone who goes through the provisions.'
The letter assures Congress that the 'US government will not assist India in the design, construction or operation of sensitive nuclear technologies.' That rules out not only the transfer of civil reprocessing and enrichment equipment or technologies to India even under safeguards, but also casts a shadow over the US granting India operational consent to reprocess spent fuel with indigenous technology. Under the 123 Agreement, India has agreed to forego reprocessing until it has, in the indeterminate future, won a separate, congressionally vetted agreement.
On one issue, the 123 Agreement had held out hope for India in the future by stating in its Article 5(2) that, 'Sensitive nuclear technology, heavy water production technology, sensitive nuclear facilities, heavy water production facilities and major critical components of such facilities may be transferred under this Agreement pursuant to an amendment to this Agreement.' But the Bush administration's letter to Congress states that the US government had no plan to seek to amend the deal to allow any sensitive transfers.
Contrast this with what the prime minister said in Parliament on August 17, 2006 -- that India wanted the 'removal of restrictions on all aspects of cooperation and technology transfers pertaining to civil nuclear energy, ranging from nuclear fuel, nuclear reactors, to reprocessing spent fuel.' Lest there be any ambiguity regarding this benchmark, he added: 'We will not agree to any dilution that would prevent us from securing the benefits of full civil nuclear cooperation as amplified above.' Earlier, on August 3, 2005, he told the Lok Sabha that he had received 'an explicit commitment from the United States that India should get the same benefits of civilian cooperation as (an) advanced country like the United States enjoys.'
Dr Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, is the author, among others, of Nuclear Proliferation: The US-India Conflict.