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View: Little to fault in IAEA agreement
July 10, 2008
The proposed agreement between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency on the safeguards applicable to civilian nuclear facilities is now all over the Web. Read as a whole, the 130 clauses (of which 21 consist of routine definitions) are basically non-controversial and hold no terrors for India. It is only meant to put into effect the arrangements necessary for the IAEA to make sure that the facilities under the safeguards comply with certain concomitant requirements as regards the use to which such facilities are put.
In fact, under the agreement, the IAEA specifically undertakes to implement the safeguards "in a manner designed to avoid hampering India's economic or technological development, and not to hinder or otherwise interfere with any activities involving the use by India of nuclear material, non-nuclear material, equipment, components, information or technology produced, acquired or developed by India independent of this agreement for its own purposes."
India is free under the agreement to use safeguarded source material for non-nuclear purposes, such as the production of alloys or ceramics, after securing the consent of the agency to terminate the safeguards on such material. India can also, by notification to the IAEA, include new facilities under the scheme of safeguards or withdraw any that is already in the list.
The agreement also provides, at the request of either India or the agency, for consultations about any question arising out of the interpretation or application of any of its clauses, giving first priority for both the parties to settle the matter by negotiation. India has been given the right to ask for any unresolved question being taken before the IAEA board of governors, and to participate in the discussion of any such question by the board. The IAEA agrees to desist from drawing any conclusions without giving an opportunity to India to offer clarifications and justification for its actions.
As regards any apparent instance of non-compliance with any of the provisions of the agreement, the language of the clause is similar to the one universally used in all such agreements. On receipt of the report of IAEA inspectors, the board is required to give reasonable time for India to take remedial action.
The IAEA Statute, no doubt, empowers the board to report the non-compliance to the UN Security Council and the General Assembly and also curtail or suspend assistance being provided by the agency or by a member, and call for the return of materials and equipment made available to the recipient member or group of members. It can be presumed, though, that not only will such occasions never arise, or, if they did, the IAEA will ascertain the facts and circumstances before apprising the board.
There is nothing that is jarring in the substantive clauses on the nature of items brought under safeguards, the procedures for inspection, submission of information and reports, maintenance of accounting and operational records, conditions for transfer of material from one safeguarded facility to another, and the like.
On the whole, it is an agreement with which India has little to quarrel, once its stated claims by way of defending the nuclear deal are conceded.
The Left too, assuming it finds it possible to lay aside its fundamental objections (subservience to the US, infringement of India's sovereignty) to the main nuclear deal, would find little in the contents of the agreement to which it can take serious exception.
Nor does it contain anything so sensitive as to stop it from being made public, as it now has been. In view of this, there was no reason at all for External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, as the UPA's leading figure in the discussions with the Left on the nuclear deal, to have held it back from the Left, at the cost of all the tantrums and turmoil, and brought an alliance that had been working reasonably well for more than four years to a traumatic end.
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