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India needs US support at nuclear suppliers' meeting

By Anand K Sahay in New Delhi
September 13, 2005 02:11 IST
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Not being a member of the 44-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group -- whose deliberations and decision will be crucial to the supply of hitherto banned equipment for its civilian nuclear reactors -- India will need to rely entirely on the US to clinch its case at the NSG gathering.

The next NSG meeting is slated in about five weeks time. The Suppliers operate on the basis of consensus.

Therefore, for commercial transfer of civilian nuclear equipment and technologies to commence, it won't do for only some London Club members -- as the NSG is unofficially called -- to discard their earlier hesitations in respect of India, a non-Non Proliferation Treaty State.

In his September 9 statement to the House Committee on International Relations Hearing on 'The US and India: An Emerging Entente?', US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Robert G Joseph, noted that 'many of our international partners have recognized the need to treat India differently (from the remaining two non-NPT states, Israel and Pakistan) and some have indicated their outright support.'

Joseph mentioned the United Kingdom as being in this category. He also said the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency had also expressed his support. India and the United States July 18 signed a nuclear agreement, in the wake of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington, DC.

'Others have told us that they look forward to normalizing their relations with India in the energy and nonproliferation communities,' Joseph informed the House Committee.

But it is important to consider that significant states such as Canada and South Africa still need persuading, informed sources point out.

While India will no doubt also seek to expend its own diplomatic energies in garnering NSG endorsement for its civilian reactors, in the final analysis it is American resourcefulness on which will rest the responsibility of securing a consensus in India's favour.

Washington is understood to be fully conscious of this.

On a reciprocal basis with India's commitments, the US has 'agreed to work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India.'

In this context, Joseph told the House Committee, President Bush has told Prime Minister Singh that 'he would work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India.'

India's part of the bargain is to secure nuclear and missile materials and technologies through comprehensive export control legislation and adherence to the Missile Technology Control Regime, MTCR, and Nuclear Suppliers Group, NSG.

In anticipation of the July 18 understanding with the US, India passed a month earlier a new export control law that imposes stringent requirements on its authorities and strengthens their ability to protect the export of sensitive technologies and WMD materials in the chemical, biological and radiological areas.

For the US, the pace of fully realizing civil nuclear cooperation with India and 'ability to build NSG consensus' relies on the 'timely implementation of Indian steps.'

These include the separation of India's civil and military nuclear facilities, which must be 'credible and defensible from a nonproliferation standpoint to us and to our international friends and partners,' as Joseph told the House Committee.

In the weeks and months to come, this will naturally be a key diplomatic area that will engage India and the US. Hard-nosed negotiations are likely to ensue.

The US believes that the number of nuclear facilities India agrees to place under IAEA safeguards (by declaring them civilian rather than military) and the speed with which it does so, will affect the degree to which it can fashion NSG support for the Indian deal.

In this context, the Manmohan Singh government will have to be mindful of the domestic political fallout. There is touchiness in the country about any compromise on the question of achieving a credible nuclear deterrent, which will naturally be impacted if too many reactors are categorized as civil, rather than military.

Soon after the July 18 India-US statement, former prime minister Vajpayee zeroed in on this issue. The Left supporters of the Manmohan Singh government are wary of any overarching agreement with the US.

Not surprisingly, the issues concerning civil/military split and NSG support, for the US, constitute areas of 'key challenges and uncertainties.' Bush and Singh are slated to review progress in these sectors when the US president visits India in early 2006.

Clearly, it is not India alone that has high stakes in civilian nuclear energy cooperation with India.

Nicholas Burns, the US under secretary of state for political affairs told the House International Relations Committee on September 8, 'The president and (the) secretary of state consider this initiative as one of the top foreign policy and legislative priorities for this year.'

As Burns noted, the civil nuclear initiative is part of a transformation of the US-India relationship that the president believes 'will strongly serve US interests in furthering global stability, democracy, prosperity and peace.'

In addition to strengthening the international nonproliferation regime, the US believes its companies will be able to enter -- as a result of the civil nuclear cooperation -- India's 'lucrative and growing energy market, potentially providing jobs for thousands of Americans.'

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Anand K Sahay in New Delhi