If China says its OK,then it must be damaging to India!
Great con game - R. Prasannan
US does not want India to make bombs
The proof of the nuclear pudding will be in eating it. The pudding, according to the Manmohan Singh government, will come in the form of the 123 agreement. "We fully expect the July 18 statement and the March 2 separation plan to be reflected in the text of the 123 agreement," said External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to pacify an opposition agitated over the text of the bill passed by the US Congress.
The final bill, reconciled between the bills passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, is, as Mukherjee pointed out, "an enabling measure that will now allow US negotiators to discuss and conclude with India a bilateral cooperation agreement, which is popularly known as a 123 agreement". (The agreement is concluded invoking section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act; hence the name.)
The concern in India is whether the bill is actually enabling the US administration or limiting its latitude. "Obviously the US administration is bound by the provisions of this Act while negotiating this agreement," said CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat. Despite the 'enablement' given to the President, the Congress has also expressed its displeasure over not having taken it into confidence before the July 18 Bush-Manmohan Singh statement was made. "Both committees (of the House and the Senate) were troubled by the lack of consultation by the Administration with Congress before the July 18, 2005, joint statement and the March 2006 US-India declaration," the explanatory statement to the bill observes.
US defenders of the bill, including Ambassador David Mulford and Deputy Secretary Nicholas Burns who parleyed with India's special representative Shyam Saran on the eve of the passage of the bill, have been pointing to the wide bipartisan support the bill attracted in both the House and the Senate. However, critics in India suspect a bipartisan consensus in the US to cap India's strategic programme.
For the time being, the Prime Minister has assured the scientific community by promising Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Dr Anil Kakodkar that nothing would be done behind his back. Pranab Mukherjee similarly assured the political opposition: "We will not allow external scrutiny of or interference with the strategic [meaning the bomb] programme."
But given the limited latitude that the Congress has given the US administration to hammer out a 123 agreement, it is going to be an uphill task for both Indian and US negotiators to fulfil the promises made in the July 18 statement which India swears by. Indian officials realise that the US administration is sympathetic, but it can't do much with an extremely restrictive law. In fact, Bush had tried to keep his July 18 word to Manmohan by pleading for a law that did not specify that his future 123 agreement would not have to go back to Congress. Both the House International Relations Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee rejected this on the ground that such a bill would have given the administration "excessive latitude in negotiating a nuclear cooperation agreement with India, leaving Congress with little ability to influence the terms of that agreement, regardless of any concerns it might have."
Thus the bill that has come out after reconciliation gives the Congress a permanent watchdog status over India's nuclear activities, unlike the agreements that the US has with the other four nuclear powers. As a member of the National Security Advisory Board pointed out, "this will have the effect of India having to engage diplomatically not just the US administration, but even the US Congress on a permanent basis". This is also likely to be interpreted in India as a go-back on the July 18 promise of parity with "other such states" which have advanced nuclear technology. The problem, therefore, is that the pudding will have to be cooked as per the restrictive recipe given by the Congress.
India had raised the parity issue after the House bill was passed which prescribed a fissile material cap on India. India also pointed out that neither China nor Pakistan would be bound by any such undertaking. The House bill would have had the effect of allowing China and Pakistan to manufacture as much fissile material as they could and make bombs, whereas India would have had no such luxury.
Now, the Congress demand to put a cap on the arsenal is likely to ignite a few rhetorical bombs in Indian Parliament. The bill states that it is in US interest to enter into an agreement with a non-NPT signatory country if, among other things, "such cooperation induces the country [India, in this case] to promulgate and implement substantially improved protections against the proliferation of technology related to nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, and to refrain from actions that would further the development of its nuclear weapons programme".
The bill's explanatory statement makes it clearer. One of the criteria listed for cooperation is that the country [India] would "refrain from actions that would further the development of its nuclear weapons programme." The reconciled bill also states that it will be US policy to "achieve, at the earliest possible date, a moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear explosive purposes by India, Pakistan and the People's Republic of China", and also to "achieve, at the earliest possible date, the conclusion and implementation of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons to which both the United States and India become parties".
Only four of the five nuclear powers have agreed to halt their fissile material production, though the US and Russia have enough stockpile to build hundreds of bombs. So the conferees (those who sat to reconcile the bills passed by the House and the Senate) took a sympathetic view and stated: "The conferees understand that India cannot do this alone, and therefore urge the executive branch to pursue a joint moratorium by India, Pakistan and China, as well as a multilateral treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons." No one in India, except those who want a thousand bombs, would have any quarrel with that.
The major embarrassing point for Indian officials would be over assurance of fuel supply. The explanatory statement to the bill states: "Indian officials have publicly stated that under the US-India agreement, India will be able to produce as much fissile material for weapons purposes as it desires.... The conferees hope that India will demonstrate restraint and not increase significantly its production of fissile material. If civil nuclear commerce were to be seen, some years from now, as having in fact contributed to India's nuclear weapons program, there could be severe consequences for nuclear cooperation, for US-Indian relations, and for the worldwide nuclear nonproliferation regime."
Scientists critical of the bill are likely to latch on to this statement. Moreover, as Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, former head of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, pointed out, there is "no fuel supply assurances for the reactors we may import in future. The different options for the reliability of fuel supplies, agreed with the US administration and included in the Separation Plan are systematically denied by the US Congress in the final bill. The bill insists that the IAEA safeguards must be in perpetuity, the need for a one-yearly Presidential certification of India's good behaviour for permitting continuation of cooperation is also retained, and it is made explicit that if India ever conducts a nuclear test, the entire deal is off. In that case, the US government is also directed by Congress that they must insist that India must return all equipment and materials supplied over the years under the deal, including any plutonium we might have produced from such imported fuel".
This provision is also likely to be criticised by the strategic community. India has already declared a moratorium on further testing, but the cost of going back on the moratorium was zero. Once nuclear cooperation begins, under this provision, the cost of exploding a device would be prohibitive. All that India would have imported from the US till that date would have to be returned lock, stock and barrel-not just the fuel, but even reactors, if any.
The big disappointment for India is that it could not get parity with China on the issue of test moratorium. Indian diplomats had worked on leading pro-India thinktanks in the US to lobby for a clause that would state that if India tests a nuclear device in response to a Chinese or Pakistani test, there wouldn't be any deal-break. Such a clause could have had the added advantage of silencing the rightists and the BJP, too. However, the final bill has no such provision, and this future deal-break is likely to be dangled as a Damocles' sword above every PM's head.
The government has the option of importing only fuel and some reactor equipment from the US and building reactors on its own so that it would keep import dependence minimum. But then that defeats the whole purpose of the bill. Apart from selling uranium, the US also intends to get business for major nuclear companies like General Electric and Westinghouse in the Indian reactor market. In fact, this was the carrot that India has been dangling before the 'business-minded' Congress to snatch the deal from the teeth of the nonproliferation hawks.
According to the bill, the US president would have to report regularly on the civil and nuclear activities in India, but as external affairs ministry officials put it, "there is no way that we will accept any condition [in the 123 agreement] of having to report to the US president". In other words, the US president would have to depend on CIA snoops and satellites, which he was employing to snoop on old Soviet Union's arsenal, to gather information on what Kakodkar is doing.
Strangely, when this provision was there in the House bill the White House had protested, but is now silent after the final bill also contained the same. In fact the White House had considered such a condition-of having to report to the Congress periodically on India's nuclear activities as an infringement "upon the President's constitutional responsibility over the timing and contents of the disclosure of sensitive diplomatic information". The White House's silence on this after the final bill also contained this provision has led to doubts within India whether the earlier stand was taken merely to silence the critics in India.
Another issue that has rankled the scientists is section 109 which provides for establishing a cooperative nuclear nonproliferation programme to pursue common nonproliferation goals with an emphasis on nuclear safeguards. As Gopalakrishnan, a bitter critic of the final bill, pointed out, this "is a unilateral US attempt to thrust their National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) into a joint programme with the DAE on nonproliferation and safeguards". Kakodkar and the Indian government had rejected this clause when it appeared in the House bill.
The Congress demand on the US president to "seek to halt the increase of nuclear weapon arsenals in South Asia and to promote their reduction and eventual elimination" would also attract fire from the bomb lobby. The demand that the president should "encourage India not to increase its production of fissile material at unsafeguarded nuclear facilities" would also go badly down in India.
That the government also is not happy with the bill became clear when Mukherjee assured Parliament that "the government has taken note of certain extraneous and prescriptive provisions in the legislation". The test for the diplomats now is to ensure that such provisions do not get contained in the 123 agreement.