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October 7, 1998


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Govt mum on India's 'secret' demands for signing CTBT

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Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi

"Lifting of economic sanctions is not part of the negotiations going on between India and the United States," declared an official from the ministry of external affairs.

"That is the demand of Pakistan, which is undergoing a severe economic turmoil. India faces no such difficulty, and our list of demands are quite different," the official added,

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had declared during his visit to New York that India would sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty after its demands were fulfilled and the country was given certain assurances. So what exactly are the assurances that New Delhi wants?

Government officials are tightlipped. The Prime Minister's Office refused to speak on the matter, passing the buck on to the ministry of external affairs. And the latter pleaded that since the talks are still going on, it would be premature to reveal the demands and where they stand. "The talks are secret and hence nothing can be said at this stage except what has been mentioned about the sanctions," said the MEA official.

Media reports state that India has a list of demands for signing the dotted line. These include transfer of dual-use technology, commercial nuclear ties and transfer of technology (the kind that the US and China recently agreed upon), and being accepted as part of the London Club, besides some other demands.

The London Club was a secret cartel agreement between the Big-5 on curbing exports of material or technology to non-nuclear weapon states, including India.

Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis Deputy Director Commodore C Uday Bhaskar, an analyst and disarmament expert who often advises South Block officials (which houses the ministries of external affairs and defence) said the key demand of India is to be willy-nilly accepted as part of the nuclear club. "This may not be de jure, not openly, but the bottomline is that de facto we want to be recognised," he said.

The reason is simple: once recognised as a nuclear weapon state, even informally, it will open up various doors for India as far as importing nuclear and other technology is concerned, such as becoming a part of the London Club.

"The US is desperate to salvage the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which India has almost blown off. Hence their insistence that India sign the CTBT by September 1999," said Commodore Bhaskar.

"Once we are accepted as a de facto nuclear power," he added, "then all these curbs will go, and India will thus be able to develop and maintain its nuclear weapons. That is why economic sanctions are not part of the agenda, because once nuclear commercial and dual-use technology ties are established, that itself means that economic sanctions are off!"

The restraint that this will put on India is to be a 'responsible' nuclear power, which means not to export technology to countries like Libya or Iraq, most of which India has more or less agreed to. The US is also demanding that India not deploy its nuclear arms, but India is still to agree to that.

The fact that the ongoing talks have stalled, with Vajpayee's special envoy Jaswant Singh and US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott due to meet once more in November, only proves that both sides are bargaining hard and that the talks still have much ground to cover. The US is apparently unwilling to accept India as a de facto nuclear state, fearing that this might tempt others to conduct nuclear tests and then claim the same privileges.

Incidentally, prior to Singh-Talbott's next meeting, energy experts, including nuclear energy experts, from both sides are meeting later this month to discuss India's energy needs and technology transfers. The venue is yet to be decided.

An expert on Indo-US relations pointed out that India is desperate for nuclear technology to meet its burgeoning demand for power. "Right now, most of electricity needs are met through oil imports, and that is why India is negotiating for relevant nuclear technology in the energy field," he said. It may be pointed out that oil imports account for over 51 per cent of India's import bill annually!

The difficulty is that most nuclear technology has dual uses (peaceful and weapons), which is why the US is cagey about allowing their imports. If the US does agree to allowing nuclear energy exports, it would be a tacit acceptance of India's position.

Right now, US President Bill Clinton has put off his scheduled November visit to India, which MEA officials do not perceive as a big loss. Not being mentioned openly is Clinton's domestic troubles, which might have also played a part in the visit being called off. "The visit may take place later," said the MEA official.

Meanwhile, the MEA has pooh-poohed reports in the Los Angeles Times that India's nuclear tests were not up to the claims. "All this is part of a western conspiracy to get us to reveal more data, which we have refused to do," said the MEA official.

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