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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

'India has got same rights as nuclear-weapon States'

July 26, 2007

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Complete coverage: The Indo-US nuclear tango

"In view of the constraints that America had, this is the best that we can get!" said a senior source in the government about the just concluded 123 agreement between India and the United States that facilitates the Indo-US civil nuclear co-operation deal.
 
"India has got the same rights as nuclear-weapon States," assured the source, who is well-versed with the negotiations over the 123 agreement, when asked specifically and repeatedly if India has got the same rights as the five nuclear-weapon States in the area of nuclear energy.

"There were no difficulties as such in negotiating the 123 agreement but the difficult challenge always remained as to how to translate the agreed issues into legal language while remaining steadfastly on the middle path," said the same source when asked what was the single most difficult challenge in closing the agreement.
 
He said, "India has got the best terms and conditions to reprocess spent fuel when compared to three other nuclear-weapon States (China, France [Images] and the UK)."
 
He conceded that Russia [Images] has got a fairly good deal regarding reprocessing in its recently concluded 123 agreement with America.
 
The 123 agreement is a bilateral agreement facilitating Indo-US civil nuclear co-operation, and is a follow-up to America's Hyde Act that has set the minimum conditions to deal with India in the field of nuclear cooperation.

The source told rediff.com in an exclusive conversation: "No other nuclear-weapon State except Russia has got such favourable terms and conditions for reprocessing of nuclear fuel as India has got out of its negotiations with America."

The permission to reprocess US-origin fuel in a dedicated, highly safeguarded facility will be on a case-to-case basis, the source said, adding that the Japan [Images]ese system of reprocessing waste fuel units has been taken as a model -- to start with -- while negotiating India 's right to reprocess spent fuel. Though, critics may argue that Japan is a non-nuclear weapons State.

One of the contentious issues was about India's right to conduct future nuclear tests because the Hyde Act has also specifies some "non-negotiable restrictions" on the deal so that, eventually, India doesn't strengthen its weapons-making capability.
 
It seems that both sides have agreed to keep out of the 123 agreement any mention of future tests; the inference being that the issue will be guided by Hyde Act, and hence may not go in India's favour. However, the more important question was, is and will be whether the 123 agreement accords India full civil nuclear cooperation as promised in the July 18, 2005, agreement.

The source retorted, "What is your definition of 'full civil nuclear cop-operation'? I believe the US is recognising India's strategic programme. India can have its reactors, can have enriched fuel and have the right to reprocess used fuel. India can carry on with its strategic programme, uninterrupted. This is 'full civil co-operation'!"

He also asked, "Name one country with this kind of assurance for fuel supplies."

"Now India can buy nuclear fuel from other countries. You can sell your heavy water also. There are no restrictions on it."

When asked about India having a right and access to international co-operation in heavy water, enrichment and reprocessing technologies, for the sake of argument he said, "We already have these technologies. We claim to have expertise in heavy water technologies. Why do we want to import?"

Pointed out that if India is not allowed to have full cooperation in enrichment, heavy water and reprocessing technology then the critics won't consider the 123 agreement awarding 'full civil nuclear cooperation to India, a senior officer assured, "We were like untouchables in the nuclear field. Even our friend Russia was not ready to negotiate. This agreement ends these sanctions. The country which was not talking about the N-word after 1998 (referring to America's sanctions against India for turning nuclear) is now signing the nuclear agreement."

"Ask scientist Kasturirangan (Dr K Kasturirangan, former chairman of ISRO) how it will help our space industry and our defence research once the civil nuclear cooperation sector is put in order."
 
Since the last few months American and Indian negotiators were maneuvering their national interests within the framework provided by Hyde Act. Also, on both sides there was real and intense opposition to the deal, and at home Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] was forced to raise the benchmark before he could sign the deal. In a surprise political move he made many commitments on the floor of Parliament on August 17, 2006, and also reiterated that India's weapons programme will not be affected by the deal.
 
Indian critics believed the civil nuclear cooperation will restrain India's weapons programme, while in Washington opposition to the deal came from the nuclear non-proliferation lobby which wanted no maneuvering space left for India whereby imported fuel can be used in its weapons programme. Rather, this lobby wanted their negotiators to close the deal in such a manner that India's weapon-making capacity gets blunted. Some pundits in India opposed the deal because it was perceived as part of the US grand plan to contain China.

Given this tug of war, who has won or lost will be known in the future when the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards are finalised for India for reprocessing waste fuels, its imported civilian nuclear plants and fuel cycles.

Experts will be able to get some idea of things to come when on August 10 Dr Singh reveals the text of the 123 agreement in Parliament; further judgment will be made when US Congress ratifies the 123 agreement. Also, for India, crucial action will come at the deliberations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group over concessions to India as envisaged by the US. It is here that countries like China will make their stance known.

However, Australia, Canada [Images], Britain, Germany [Images] and France are backing the deal for commercial reasons and have already issued positive statements.

India will now have to enter into separate 123 agreements with nuclear fuel suppliers like Canada, Australia and other countries once the Indo-US nuclear deal falls into place.

In a restrained tone of triumph the source said, "I hope, now, the critics of the deal who had a defeatist mentality and were paranoid about the nuclear deal will rest. People with inferiority complex regarding India's capacity were against the deal."
 
He said critics of the deal were "thinking in a straight line about history and bilateral diplomacy."

In New Delhi the Prime Minister's Office has stepped up the political activity to "sell" the deal within India. Today former prime minister A B Vajpayee and his party colleagues including former National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra and the severest critic of them all, former minister Arun Shourie, all met with Dr Singh.

The prime minister, who has high stakes in seeing the deal through, again insisted that the nuclear deal is in India's interests.


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