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'India should not be considered a pushover'
August 26, 2006
There are explicit indications in the bills that the US wants to keep a tab on the Indian nuclear programme in general and production and utilisation of fissile material for weapons purposes requiring annual reporting to the Congress in particular.
This obviously has created ripples in the minds of various political parties, strategic analysts, the media and nuclear scientific community in India.
Though the prime minister's detailed response to various points of concern expressed during the debate in Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of the Indian Parliament) on August 17 has, to a large extent, helped clarify the Indian stand, there are still some lingering doubts. Will the two sides will be able to effectively iron out the differences, given the divergent US perspectives?
It is to be seen how seriously India will pursue in letter and spirit the stand taken by the prime minister and how the US will respond. The ball seems to be squarely in the US' court. Among the various issues, there are a few that deserve particular attention.
In spite of all the pronouncements made so far by the US president and the prime minister, there are still some concerns regarding full compliance with the most basic element in the Joint Statement, like whether India will assume the same responsibilities and practices and acquire the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the US.
Not many realise that this has been compromised to a considerable extent by the time the March 2 agreement on the Separation Plan was nailed.
Both sides bargained hard and India by no means had the full freedom to decide on the contents of the two lists as expected.
Many former top nuclear scientists are not happy with the separation lists but it has now become a fait accompli.
The focus will now be on the India-specific safeguards agreement to be 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 weapon State as per the Joint Statement without being formally recognised as a weapons State as per Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. One has to see how this will evolve.
Weapons States are hardly subject to any rigorous International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and there doesn't seem to be any stipulation of safeguards in perpetuity. Also, the IAEA for years has been implementing safeguards in States, which fall under the category of Nuclear Weapon States or Non-Nuclear Weapon States and more recently with or without additional protocol.
For the first time, the IAEA will now be implementing a safeguards inspection regime in a State recognised to be having nuclear weapons but considered as a non-weapons State not party to the Non Proliferation Treaty.
This will be a challenging task indeed. As if this is not enough, there is a suggestion to impose an independent safeguards regime by the US as a backup to the IAEA safeguards in case IAEA safeguards are found wanting. How bizarre could this be?
Another point of concern is that despite the clear mention of full civil nuclear cooperation in the Joint Statement, there are indications from the US that sensitive technologies such as reprocessing, uranium enrichment and heavy water will be excluded. Also, there could be restrictions on reprocessing of safeguarded spent fuel. These are highly objectionable intrusions and deserve to be totally opposed.
However 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 and safeguards aspects could get mucked-up.
Satisfactory resolution of this requires careful handling on both sides. There are lots of opinions being expressed regarding the binding and non-binding provisions in the Congress bills as legal and sense of the House requirements.
It appears foolhardy to buy this argument. This is highly confusing and is more an internal issue of the US and the president could circumvent most of the so-called non-binding provisions while arriving at the final agreement.
But, given the US track record, any of these provisions that are temporarily dormant at present could come to the fore as time passes and become binding with changes in the administration and the legislature.
There are other aspects too, such as s one time permanent waiver as against annual certification, the Fissile Material Control Treaty to be treated as a multilateral issue, and no conditions to be imposed in the final agreement against India going for nuclear tests in the context of supreme national security interest.
The bottom line is, it should be understood that India -- having developed expertise and capability covering the entire fuel cycle both for civilian as well as military applications under heavy odds with denials, sanctions and restrictions imposed by the international community for more than three decades -- is really not looking for large-scale technology inputs.
In fact, India is boldly and confidently embarking on an ambitious fast breeder reactor programme with an eye on thorium utilisation, something that no country in the world has any experience about.
India should not be considered as a pushover. What India is looking for in this deal is to play a prominent role in nuclear commerce preserving the global norms on non-proliferation as a responsible country.
In fact, India has got a lot to offer to countries like the US by way of expertise and services, particularly since the US nuclear industry has been dormant since the late 1970s.
In the ultimate analysis, mutual trust and statesmanship from both sides is the key to the success of this epoch-making deal.
Dr A N Prasad is a former director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and a former member of India's Atomic Energy Commission. He is among the group of scientists who will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the India-US nuclear deal on Saturday.