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'It is sad that the N-deal is smeared in murky politics'

By Sheela Bhatt in New York
July 08, 2008 10:57 IST
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On July 2, Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh met National Security Adviser M K Narayanan reportedly at the Intelligence Bureau guesthouse on Pandit Pant Marg in New Delhi.

According to a statement issued to the media by the Prime Minister's Office, Singh sought certain clarifications regarding the India-US nuclear agreement.

The unprecedented move -- a media statement issued on a key national strategic issue -- has upset Dr A N Prasad, former director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, the Indian nuclear programme's first such facility, and a known critic of the nuclear deal.

Dr Prasad told, "It is sad to see that the deal which is projected as one of supreme national interest being smeared with the murky politics of number games."

Some of the conclusions in the PMO statement, argues the nuclear scientist, are misleading. Among the main issues raised by Singh, one pertained to India's sovereignty.

The Samajwadi Party leader asked if by concluding such an agreement, the sovereignty of decision-making in regard to India's foreign policy would be compromised.

In response, the PMO said, 'It was clarified to Shri Amar Singh that the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement did not and would not affect the autonomy of decision-making in foreign affairs in any manner.'

Singh, whose party is worried about how its decision to support the nuclear deal will affect its Muslim votebank, was also keen to understand India's relationship with Iran, something the US has frowned upon. The PMO clarified, 'Our relations with Iran were time-honoured and civilisational in nature and no outside influence or pressure could force India to deviate from this path.'

The issue of the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline was also discussed during the Narayanan-Singh encounter.

The PMO responded, 'The pipeline epitomises the nature and importance of the relationship, something that was strongly reinforced during the visit of President Ahmadinejad to New Delhi in April.'

'India,' the PMO added, 'is not under any pressure, nor can it be pressurised to follow a course of action that is not dictated by our enlightened self-interest.'

Dr Prasad, who has commented widely on the deal, says, "It is painful for me, as one who has seen and having been a part of the glorious period of phenomenal growth of our capabilities by weathering challenges of embargoes and isolation by the supplier countries (Nuclear Suppliers Group) ganging against us, when some people are laughingly referring to the NSG as an acronym for our version of 'Number Supplier Group'! Politics -- at its worst -- has taken centrestage with scientists being reduced to nothing."

Adds the scientist, "The PMO statement is on expected lines; there is nothing new."

The PMO statement said, 'Another important issue that was raised by the Samajwadi Party leaders was whether the nuclear deal would undermine our nuclear sovereignty, specially with regard to our strategic nuclear programme. It was clarified that the deal would not in any way impinge on our strategic programme. This is an agreement for civil nuclear cooperation. The purpose of the agreement is to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation between the two parties and concerns nuclear reactors and all aspects of the associated nuclear fuel cycle. It caters for the development of a strategic reservoir of nuclear fuel to guard against disruption of supplies over the lifetime of India's reactors, and for advanced R&D in nuclear sciences.'

Dr Prasad disputes this contention: "It is surprising that the government, even at this stage is maintaining that this agreement covers full civil nuclear cooperation, including nuclear reactors and all aspects of the associated nuclear fuel cycle. It is hard to comprehend whether it is deliberate or they really don't understand what is meant by 'nuclear fuel cycle'. The US has made it clear that the deal does not include enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water which are all parts of the nuclear fuel cycle on which embargoes continue."

The PMO statement said disruption of nuclear supplies is being guarded, but Dr Prasad says, "This is not true because there is no categorical assurance to supply uranium over the life-time of the reactors."

Amar Singh raised a query about the Hyde Act passed by the United States Congress and its impact on the 123 Agreement between India and the US.

The PMO statement contended, 'A careful reading of the provisions of the 123 Agreement would make it clear that substantive rights and obligations under the Agreement are not affected by the national laws of the parties. It is the 123 Agreement and its provisions that indicate the obligations of both sides. The 123 Agreement clearly overrides the Hyde Act and this position would be clear to anyone who goes through the provisions.'

Disputing this, Dr Prasad says, "Repeated claims that the 123 Agreement overrides the Hyde Act is untenable having agreed upfront that the Agreement will be implemented according to national laws on both sides. Since India has to do business with the US and if they are bound by their Hyde Act what leverage do we have particularly when the 123 is full of ambiguities in language with no clarity? In fact at one time, Nicholas Burns (the then US under secretary of state) clarified that the language of the 123 is kept vague to allow room for varying interpretations. Probably to mislead if necessary!"

Adds Dr Prasad, "It is also not clear what are included as substantial rights and obligations under the Agreement which are not affected by the national laws of the parties. At least I am not aware of any laws in our country which cover this premise."

Amar Singh sought clarifications with regard to the right to re-process and the right to conduct nuclear tests and the provisions under which the United States would determine its cooperation with India.

The PMO said great care was taken while finalising the 123 Agreement to arrive at provisions which are satisfactory from India's point of view. The Agreement, hence, specifically grants consent to re-process or otherwise alter in form or content nuclear material transferred pursuant to the Agreement. India has agreed to establish a new national re-processing facility dedicated for re-processing nuclear material under IAEA safeguards.

The PMO added, 'There is nothing in the Agreement which places an embargo on India's right to carry out a nuclear test if it thinks this is necessary in India's supreme national interest. To meet the contingency (raised by the Hyde Act) that the United States might terminate its cooperation with India if it carried out a nuclear test, a very elaborate consultation process has been included in the 123 Agreement. The consultations would go into the relevant circumstances; take into account the specific requirements leading to a test; whether there had been a change in the security environment which required this; and/or whether this was a response to similar actions by other States which could impact on India's national security. Furthermore, it is stated in the Agreement that the two parties recognized that exercising the right of return would have profound implications for their relations and that both parties should take into account the potential negative consequences of such termination of ongoing contracts and projects.'

Dr Prasad refutes this, "The issue of reprocessing, in my opinion, is a sell-out. There is no clear consent to reprocess and all that is achieved is to shove it to be tackled in future by giving a notional, practically empty, consent. The arrangements and procedures are to be discussed in future without making clear whether before or after building a dedicated reprocessing plant without any contribution from outside from this deal. The worst part is the arrangements have to be approved by the US Congress! What a humiliating prospect for people like us after having more than 40 years of experience in this field and that too I having worked in this field from Day 1. This is worse than the Tarapur arrangement."

On the issue of India's right to test again its nuclear weapons systems, Dr Prasad says, "On the issue of testing, I think what is conceded is an elaborate consultation process -- it is not clear whether before or after the tests. Since the US law is absolutely clear on this, such a provision could at best be only an eyewash. If the US is not convinced, which is most likely, what next? If the US withdraws, where do we stand with all the starved costly reactors? We will be left with only the hazardous waste to deal with. The way the terms of the deal are structured, it is clear that we have only the legal right to test which cannot be implemented due to tremendous consequences. No Nuclear Weapon State has such constraint. This after, we being treated on a par with advanced countries like the US as stated in the July 18, 2005 Joint Statement between the US President and our PM!"

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Sheela Bhatt in New York