Senator Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, was quick to seize on a report published Thursday in the Washington Post alleging that sensitive nuclear blueprints were leaked by an Indian government agency to question India's record of an impeccable non-proliferation track record and to signal her opposition to the ratification of the 123 Agreement by Congress.
Coverage: Indo-US Nuclear Deal
At a hearing by the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Boxer, who voted against the enabling legislation, known as the Hyde Act in 2006 to help facilitate the US-India civilian nuclear deal, said, "I have the best Indian American community in the country -- probably the largest -- and I admire them and I hear from them and they want me to be on the side of this agreement."
She said, "I want our relations to thrive and prosper, but I also feel that it is in everybody's interest, including India's, including the people who live there and people all over the world," not to let this agreement go forward.
Boxer said, "When you see this blueprint, which would be secret in any other Western country, being printed and has to do with making centrifuges, sold for 10 bucks it's a little alarming."
David Albright, an erstwhile UN weapons inspector, who heads the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based non-profit organisation that monitors proliferation activities worldwide, said Indian blueprints were available for a nominal bidding fee and that he had obtained the drawings for about $10 to prove a point.
Boxer slammed Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood for saying that while the Administration takes 'this very seriously, there are no perfect systems, including our own,' and that American firms had also been in violation of such exports.
She alleged that Rood's blase remark that seemed to imply that 'Oh, well, US companies do it all the time', was proof that the Administration was not taking this matter seriously and thundered that "this isn't a company -- this particular (violation) was done by India's Department of Atomic Energy, so it's part of the government."
Boxer also said that she would support the agreement if it requires that India gives up its military-to-military contacts with Teheran.
Ridiculing the Administration's contention that it trusts India, she said, 'Ronald Reagan used to say, trust but verify,' and told Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns, who was testifying along with Rood that 'since you are trying to rush this through and waive the time requirement, I hope members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle would perhaps put a couple of more principles into this agreement, which would make us feel a lot better. Trust but verify!"
Another critic of the deal, Senator Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, who also voted against the enabling legislation in 2006, said, "After reviewing this unprecedented deal, including once again the supporting classified documents -- which I recommend all my colleagues take a look at -- and after discussing this agreement with senior Indian government officials in a recent trip to India, I am still concerned that this deal seriously undermines non-proliferation efforts and would contribute to an arms race with global implications."
"Congress now has a choice," he said, adding, "Approve this deal in its current flawed form or require the Administration to seek non-proliferation standards to try to ensure we don't undermine the non-proliferation laws that we all know we have meticulously put together over the last 30 years."
Feingold said his 'main concern is that this agreement could indirectly benefit India's nuclear weapons program and potentially contribute to an arms race in the region'.
Burns had said that Indians had assured the US that they have no intention to significantly increase their nuclear arsenal but what they have an intention to do is to increase their civilian nuclear program to alleviate their pressing energy needs.
But he pointed out that 'with or without this initiative, India clearly has the ability to sustain a nuclear arsenal and expand it over time. Our judgment is that by taking this step, we are creating a greater incentive for civil nuclear energy by vastly increase their range of facilities, materials, and in a sense making a positive contribution with the Indians to non-proliferation."
However, Burns acknowledged that 'there is no perfect guarantee', when Feingold reminded him that India made similar assurances over 30 years ago, but still went ahead and tested a weapon in 1974.
Meanwhile, Rood assured Feingold that IAEA safeguards would have to be in place in India's facilities that were included under the separation plan before licenses were approved for American firms to export nuclear reactors and other technology to India.