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The ball is now squarely in America's court
August 21, 2006
The direction in which the Indo-US nuclear cooperation deal is being steered by the US appears to focus more on non-proliferation aspects rather than civil nuclear cooperation. Thus deviating from the July 18, 2005 joint statement, as evident from the contents of the Bill HR5682 passed by the House of Representatives in June 2006.
The Bill which comes up for consideration before the Senate next month has created ripples in the minds of various political parties, strategic analysts, media and the top nuclear scientific community in India.
This culminated in a debate in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament on August 17. The prime minister's statement with his detailed response to various points of concern keeping the July 18 Statement and the March 2, 2006 Separation plan as guiding documents has to a large extent helped clarify the Indian stand.
The ball is now squarely in the US court. It will be interesting to watch whether this will be followed in letter and spirit by both sides and the US reaction. Among the various aspects, the following are particularly worth mentioning.
The most appropriate place where this could be seen to be followed is when the India-specific safeguards agreements are negotiated. This could well become a bone of contention given the complexities involved, particularly in respect of India being implicitly eligible to be treated like a weapons state as per the joint statement without being formally recognised as a weapons state as per NPT parlance.
One has to see how this will evolve. The weapons states hardly practice any rigorous IAEA safeguards regime and there doesn't seem to be any requirement of safeguards in perpetuity. Also, there is no way India could accept an independent safeguards regime from the US as a backup to IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards as is being mooted.
One complex aspect to contend with is that the technologies and facilities involved are invariably common to both civil and military applications as a result of which non-proliferation aspects and safeguards arrangements could get mucked-up. Satisfactory resolution of this requires careful handling.
In fact, India has got a lot to offer to countries like the US by way of expertise and services.
Dr A N Prasad is the former director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai