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Home > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Nuclear proliferation expert Leonard Spector

'Even if the nuclear deal were to be deferred, US-India relations will flourish'

December 27, 2005

Leonard 'Sandy' Spector is one among a small group of top nuclear nonproliferation experts who have been briefing United States Congressional staffers, including those on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on the merits and demerits of the proposed US-India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement.

Spector is a former Assistant Deputy Administrator for Arms Control and Nonproliferation at the US Department of Energy's National Security Administration, and currently Deputy Director of the Monterey Institute of International Studies' Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Last fortnight he convened along with other leading nonproliferation experts convened a special briefing to talk about India's alleged transfer of plutonium from the Canadian-supplied CIRUS research reactor to its nuclear weapons programme to powerful lawmakers including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Richard Lugar of the dangers inherent in the US-India nuclear deal.

Spector told rediff India Abroad Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa that in his opinion, Lugar is aware of the issues and there is increasing concern on Capitol Hill over the deal.

"No one can look at the overall situation and not identify CIRUS as a question" that has to be resolved before Congress considers approving the agreement between Washington and New Delhi, Spector said.

During his stint at the DOE, Spector's principal responsibilities included the development and implementation of DOE arms control and nonproliferation policy with respect to international treaties; US domestic and multilateral export controls; inspection and technical cooperation activities of the International Atomic Energy Agency; civilian nuclear activities in the US and abroad; and initiatives in regions of proliferation concern.

Prior to his tenure at DOE, Spector served as senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC and director of its Nuclear Nonproliferation Project.

Before joining Carnegie, Spector served as chief counsel to the US Senate Energy and Proliferation Subcommittee, where he assisted in drafting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. He began his career in nuclear nonproliferation as a special counsel at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

You have testified before Congress on the US-India civilian nuclear agreement, and brought your years of experience and technical expertise to bear on these hearings, particularly from a historical perspective on the proliferation of nuclear weapons and how some nations have acquired the wherewithal to develop these weapons.

Are you confident that Congress is adequately seized on the issues regarding India's record vis--vis CIRUS, and other concerns nonproliferation advocates like you may have?

I don't believe CIRUS has been identified specifically as a source of concern, but it seems to be part of the range of concerns that the Hill is concentrating on. No one can look at this overall situation and not identify CIRUS as a question. It may not be the be-all and end-all in the minds of certain Congressmen and Senators, but the document that they have in front of them, when they decide how hard they are going to push on various items, one choice they will have to make is about CIRUS.

Senator Lugar is considered one of the fiercest advocates of nonproliferation on Capitol Hill. Are you encouraged by the stand he has taken on the US-India civilian nuclear agreement, wherein he has called on the administration to provide credible and transparent plans of India's commitment to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities, and that this plan must be defensible from a nonproliferation standpoint?

I thought he did a very appropriate thing when he said Congress has many more questions and that they want to see how the answers unfold; I believe on one hand he has encouraged India to do the right thing without getting too specific, so that there is room for negotiation. That is a very positive approach, and that's what we would all like to see some serious negotiations on these issues. I know his staff is familiar with the (CIRUS) issue.

Though the Bush administration professes its commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it did not support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was the centrepiece of the Clinton administration's foreign policy in its second-term.

Do you believe that some of the senior officials like Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns, who is the point person for driving the Indo-US nuclear deal through Congress, has sufficient depth of knowledge on these issues?

And if the answer to that is no, is that a failing on the part of those who are negotiating this agreement?

I believe the individuals involved in the negotiations, especially Bob Joseph (Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security) are very knowledgeable about the details; they have gotten very expert advice on the questions and they've tried to put together a position that supports the President's fundamental desire for closer ties with India, with certain restrictions.

I hope they will add some new restrictions on the CIRUS issue but, as I said earlier, I believe they are focused on a more preliminary and crucially important issue, which is, will the safeguards be permanent or will they be just this kind of floating safeguards that could be eliminated at some stage in the future?

So I believe they are pretty committed on this question -- that is, the overall question of restraints negotiated with India. I don't believe the CIRUS reactor is yet in the forefront of their concerns, but we will continue to bring it to their attention, as we have with those in Congress.

But if people like you bringing up the issue, and Congress raising concerns over it, proves to be a deal breaker, what would your reaction be? Would you say too bad, so be it?

I believe that as we've framed this issue, we've left a lot of bargaining room -- and I think you've heard some of these alternatives and options that have been discussed. But I do think this (the CIRUS controversy) really must be addressed, before this proposal can move forward.

During your recent testimony before the House International Relations Committee on the US-India civilian nuclear agreement, you argued that this nuclear deal should not be the be-all and end-all of the US-India relationship, and that the strategic partnership with India can survive without this deal.

Strategic experts like Ashley Tellis and former Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill, who is considered one of the architects of the agreement, have told me in interviews that this is indeed the be-all and end-all, if the US-India strategic partnership is to forge ahead. They have said that implementing this agreement is vital for the continued transformation of this relationship.

At the conference you organised, however, you brought up the analogy of the extremely strong strategic partnership between US and Israel sans any cooperation on the nuclear front.

As Foreign Secretary (Shyam) Saran emphasised in his December 21 address to a public forum here, nuclear cooperation is but one element of a much broader US-India relationship. That relationship encompasses defense cooperation; accelerated US licensing of Indian pharmaceuticals; and extensive collaboration in the information sector among other important dimensions.

Even in the area of energy, Saran stressed, numerous US-Indian initiatives are under way, in addition to that dealing with nuclear power. This includes joint work on clean coal technologies and energy efficiency, and advanced research and development on new energy sources. Moreover, Saran stressed the increasing convergence of US and Indian interests in a host of areas.

Thus, it is clear to me that even if the nuclear deal were to be deferred, US-India relations will continue to flourish -- there is simply too much bringing us together.

In fact, they have already flourished, despite ongoing differences over nuclear issues.

With regard to the US-Israel strategic partnership flourishing, as you know Israel, like India, has uninspected nuclear facilities that are generally thought to support a nuclear weapons programme. The United States has extremely cordial relations with Israel, considering it a non-NATO ally, even though we enforce a nuclear embargo against it and apply the same rules that now prevent US nuclear trade with India.

So there is no reason why Indo-American relations cannot be just as close as those we enjoy with Israel, even if we disagree over nuclear matters.


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