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For the US, it's advantage India

By M K Bhadrakumar
November 04, 2005 15:48 IST
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The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the India-US nuclear deal, which began in Washington on November 2, should give a fair idea of what New Delhi is up against.

On the very first day of the hearings, the advocates of nuclear non-proliferation have raised concerns. The powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard G Lugar, went an extra league in his opening statement to list out the voices of dissent.

We can almost hear American diplomats hopping from roof to roof over the vistas of central Delhi, dropping hints on how a beleaguered White House in Washington is bravely waging on the Hill against heavy odds a grim battle upholding the cause of US-India strategic relationship -- and Indians must remain grateful for that.

At a minimum, Indians must be mindful of American sensitivities on regional and international issues. Certainly, India must do 'more' to earn kudos in Washington.

The two senior Bush administration officials who testified -- Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Robert Joseph, Under Secretary of Sate for Arms Control and International Security -- have plainly linked the imperatives of the July 19 India-US nuclear deal and India's vote against Iran at the IAEA on September 24.

Burns patronisingly said the vote 'reflects India's coming of age as a responsible State in the global non-proliferation mainstream'. He stressed that India's 'continuing cooperation' with the US on the Iran nuclear issue was 'essential'.

Robert Joseph also said India's IAEA vote was 'evidence' of the US 'expectation' that the July agreement would strengthen the international non-proliferation regime. In his words, 'As evidence of this expectation, we note with satisfaction India's positive IAEA Board of Governors vote in September on Iran's non-compliance, and look forward to further cooperative action on this critical international security issue.'

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported citing Indian and US officials that 'India's leaders have assured Washington that they will in fact vote again to refer Iran to the (UN Security) Council if Iran does not stop enriching uranium and return to negotiations.'

But Iran is only one of several issues where Washington expects India to perform in conformity with US interests. Burns at one point in his testimony actually listed out Washington's 'political side of the ledger'.

First, the US expects that a 'closer partnership' will be created with India 'to help build democratic institutions in the region and worldwide'. But, such cooperation, in Burns's words, will only be 'in specific countries'.

He singled out Central Asia as the theatre of India-US cooperation in furthering democracy (but would inexplicably exclude the mountainous geographical space between India and Central Asia – Pakistan or Afghanistan).

Plainly speaking, the US would like India to disengage from Russia, China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and instead to join up with the US and to lend a hand in furthering the agenda of 'regime change' and 'colour revolution' in the Central Asian region.

Clearly, the trends of India moving close to substantive regional cooperation involving Russia and China within the framework of the SCO -- as was apparent during the meeting of leaders of SCO member countries in Moscow last week, attended by Indian Minister of External Affairs K Natwar Singh -- has unnerved Washington.

Again, Burns stressed that the US expects a 'far more vigorous Indian engagement' with the US on the range of issues involved in the ongoing process of reforming the United Nations. Similarly, 'Indian support for the multi-national Proliferation Security Initiative would be a boon…. We hope India will choose to join PSI.'

However, the performance targets set for India in respect of the actual implementation of the July 19 nuclear deal are the most striking.

It is unclear whether the Indian government had been all along aware of these US conditionalities but deliberately kept them away from the Indian public opinion and preferred to indulge in dissimulation.

At any rate, contrary to the impression propagated by Indian officials, the US will not regard it as sufficient if India enters into a 'voluntary offer' safeguards agreement with the IAEA that is on par with similar safeguards agreements by the nuclear weapon States.

This means that India cannot have the right (enjoyed by the five nuclear weapon states) to shift facilities from civilian category to military under any contingencies that may arise.

Furthermore, the Additional Protocol and the ensuing safeguards that India enters into with the IAEA 'must be applied in perpetuity'. Equally so, the prerogative to remove civilian facilities from safeguards or to transfer nuclear materials out of the civil sector under any national security considerations (that is allowed to the five nuclear weapon states) will not apply in India's case.

Burns said the initiation of legislation by the Bush administration in the US Congress itself will be a 'consequential decision' that will be based on 'evidence' that the Indian government has begun acting on the 'most important commitment' – separation of civil and military nuclear facilities.

He elaborated that during his recent visit to Delhi in the third week of October, he told Indian officials that the Indian government 'must craft a credible and transparent plan and have begun to implement it' before the US administration could request Congressional action.

As Joseph put it in his testimony, 'We expect -- and have indicated to the Government of India -- that India's separation of its civil and military nuclear infrastructure must be conducted in a credible and transparent manner, and be defensible from a non-proliferation standpoint. In other words, the separation and the resultant safeguards must contribute to our non-proliferation goals. Many of our international partners have similarly indicated that they view this as a necessary precondition'.

According to Burns, the Indian side 'assured me that the Indian government would produce such a plan'. The US will closely monitor the drawing up of such a plan and will not leave it to the Indian side to include or exclude civil nuclear facilities as they deemed fit. Burns said he intended to visit Delhi again in January 'to further our understanding of India's plans to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities'.

Both Burns and Joseph underlined repeatedly that the US stands rooted to its position that it cannot and will not recognise India as a nuclear weapons State. They said the issue at hand is how to nonetheless work with India on full civilian nuclear cooperation, and, secondly, how to bring India into compliance with the standards and practices of the international non-proliferation regime by ending India's isolation and by 'engaging India'.

Curious or not, the US officials chose the title of Strobe Talbott's famous book on the Indian bomb (Engaging India) to distinguish between tactic and strategy in Washington's current nuclear diplomacy with Delhi.

Was it a subtle acknowledgement that the July nuclear deal virtually takes off from where Talbott ended his diplomacy with the previous National Democratic Alliance government in India?

Joseph advised the Senate 'to resist the temptation to pile on conditions' on India at this juncture -- conditions that Talbott was persistently seeking, such as implementing a moratorium on fissile material production, ratifying the CTBT or joining the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.

'Rather than layer on additional conditions or seek to renegotiate the Joint Statement, it would be better to lock-in this deal and then seek to achieve further results in subsequent non-proliferation discussions', he counselled.

In other words, like Charles Dickens' Oliver, Washington can be expected to ask Indian officials for 'more' as time passes by.

What makes the task easy for Washington is that it is well placed to drive home the advantage of dealing with an India that is today a hopelessly divided house on issues of foreign and security policy.

Perhaps it is for the first time in India's post-independent history that the US enjoys such an advantage vis-à-vis India.

Paradoxically, India appears to be at its most diffident when in actuality it ought to feel much stronger than at anytime in the decades since independence.

M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat

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M K Bhadrakumar