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US nonproliferation lobby relishes Pokhran-II row

September 05, 2009 01:42 IST
The United States' nonproliferation lobby is apparently relishing the controversy ignited by erstwhile Defense and Research Development Organization scientist K Santhanam that the May 1998 Pokhran thermonuclear tests were not a full success implying that India needs to test again.

In the wake of Santhanam's claim, former President A P J Abdul Kalam, declared the tests were a success and ridiculed the former's contention and in turn Homi Sethna, the guiding force behind India's peaceful nuclear explosion in 1974 waded into the controversy pillorying Kalam and saying he was no qualified authority to question Santhanam.

In the midst of all this, another former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission P K Iyengar alleged that the 1998 tests were done in haste while the current chairman Anil Kakodkar said, "India does not need to carry any more nuclear tests."

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, obviously cognizant that this raging debate would only benefit India's critics, especially those who had opposed the US-India civilian nuclear deal, who have argued that Washington by giving New Delhi this exemption was giving it the green light to test again, bemoaned the whole hullabaloo as a "useless controversy."

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, who coordinated the unsuccessful lobbying campaign by a coalition of nonproliferation and arms control against the US-India nuclear deal, acknowledged that, "We have been watching the recent debate in the Indian press about Santhanam's claims with great interest."

He told that "we too find it odd that claims that the 1998 test explosions were fizzles would emerge a decade later, just after the conclusion of the controversial nuclear cooperation deal and just as the United States begins again a debate on Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratification."

However, Kimball said the recent comments of National Security Adviser M K Narayanan in an interview refuting any suggestion that India should resume testing were "encouraging."

Narayanan had said in an August 30 interview with the Hindu that, "As of now, we are steadfast in our commitment to the moratorium. At least there is no debate in the internal circles about this."

Kimball said that "even more encouraging was Mr Narayanan's suggestion that 'I think we need to now have a full-fledged discussion on the CTBT. We'll cross that hurdle when we come to it.'"

"Indeed, if there is no technical reason for India to break its test moratorium pledge," Kimbal argued, "there should be no reason that India cannot seriously reconsider and sign the CTBT."

He asserted, "India could advance the cause of nuclear disarmament and substantially ease regional tensions by converting its unilateral test moratoria into a legally-binding commitment to end nuclear testing through the CTBT."

Kimball said if India does so, "Pakistan would have no option but to follow India's lead."

He said that "old arguments made by some, such as (former) ambassador (to the UN in Geneva and the Conference on Disarmament) Arundhati Ghose, that India was unfairly singled out in the CTBT talks because it is among the 44 states that must ratify before the CTBT enters into force, are no longer valid."

Kimball said, "If India wants to be treated as a responsible nuclear power, it is only natural to expect that it should abide by the same limits on building new and more deadly nuclear weapons as other states. And, under President Barack Obama, the United States is finally moving to take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons, as Indian leaders have long advocated."

He recalled that on September 24, 1999, "Then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told the 53rd United Nations General Assembly that India would not be among the last states standing in the way of the treaty's entry into force."

"Unfortunately, over the past decade, neither India nor Pakistan have transformed their de facto nuclear test moratorium into a legally-binding commitment not to conduct nuclear test explosions," he added.

Kimball said, "It is past time for India's current leaders to take up Prime Minister Vajpayee's promise to the General Assembly and move toward joining the near-consensus on the CTBT."

Although, the Obama administration in the initial weeks of its advent was all gung-ho about pushing for the ratification of the CTBT in the US Senate and applying diplomatic pressure worldwide for other states to follow suit, five months into President Obama's tenure, such ratification by US lawmakers seems a long way off.

In April, in Prague, Obama served notice that "my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue US ratification," of the CTBT, as a catalyst to making the world free of nuclear weapons.

Several senior officials, who are all nonproliferation hawks and had vehemently opposed the US-India nuclear deal like former Congresswoman and now Under Secretary of State for International Security and Arms Control Ellen Tauscher, the nonproliferation czar in the White House National Security Council Gary Samore, also spoke of pushing for the CTBT ratification early, which necessarily meant pressure on India to sign it too.

But now, Obama, plagued by problems in pushing through his number one domestic priority in terms of health care reform, and the major foreign policy issue of Afghanistan, has hardly made any inroads to securing the 67 votes in the 100-member Senate for CTBT ratification, which Indian diplomatic sources have acknowledged, eases the pressure on India to ratify the treaty, particularly since there is a growing perception that this is the least India can do for US pushing through the nuclear deal in forums like the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The US, denies that there is any such quid pro quo or pressure but notes that India itself has come out publicly saying it is willing to discuss CTBT ratification.

In an exclusive interview with India Abroad last month, the Obama administration's point man for the region, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robert Blake said that "The civil nuclear agreement unlocks the possibility for us to cooperate much more on some of these big nonproliferation issues, and India wants to work on these issues with us and they've said so publicly--Shyam Saran and others have said that."

He said, "Under Secretary Tauscher, and Bob Einhorn (another nonproliferation hawk who was opposed to the US-India nuclear deal and is now a senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) and Gary(Samore) and others will all be working in these dialogues with their Indian counterparts to explore the way forward."

Blake said, "The President, as you know, laid out a very ambitious agenda in Prague, outlining his vision for a world that is free of nuclear weapons, and (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh, at various times has echoed that vision, but of course, one has to make sure that other countries in the region, will also be part of that and that's perfectly understandable."

Administration sources told that the likes of Tauscher, Samore and Einhorn were working behind the scenes with senior aides to lawmakers to resurrect the CTBT debate in the Senate and secure its ratification.

But Congressional sources said that getting 67 votes now seemed "wishful thinking," since it is required for at least two dozen Republicans to sign on to it, and as of now, even fervent nonproliferation advocates like Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had said the time is not ripe for such an intervention and sometime in mid-2010 may be more feasible.

Later this month, on September 24, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Obama will chair a special session among the 15 Security Council members to advocate worldwide consensus to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation and make a pitch for those who have not signed on to do so.

But, both administration officials and Congressional aides don't foresee any tangible results from this special session and Republicans in the Senate, they acknowledged they are in no mood to give Obama any victories and are bent to torpedo Senate ratification of the CTBT as they did when they were in the majority during the Clinton administration years and defeated this top foreign policy priority of President Clinton.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC