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NSG: Do not discard the baby with the bath water
T P Sreenivasan
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August 25, 2008

Nuclear deal enthusiasts are enraged by the attitude of certain countries with only a marginal role in the nuclear game, which has resulted in a delay in the exemption that the Nuclear Suppliers Group was expected to give to pave the way for a final vote in the US Congress.

The situation is particularly perilous because of the tight timeframe for the deal to be operationalised. Both India and the US are anxious that the deal should be done during the current Congress, even though the choice of Joseph Biden as the Democratic candidate for vice president has eased the situation. Barack Obama's [Images] non-proliferation zeal may well be tempered by Biden's enthusiasm for India and the deal. McCain is already committed to the deal.

The developments in the NSG were not unexpected. I had written on a year ago that 'negotiating for an exception for India from its guidelines would be like negotiating with Winston Churchill [Images] for the liquidation of the British Empire'. A group which was set up by the United States to deny nuclear fuel and technology to India would not sign on the dotted line just because the US found it in its interest to grant India an exemption. Moreover, the changes they are seeking are close to the hearts of the US policy-makers and the non-proliferationists. In fact, much of what they are saying has already been conceded by India implicitly.

One thing which nobody wants to remember, after the leftists had made an issue of it, is that the Hyde Act had the full support of India. Our embassy, our lobbyists and our community exerted all the pressure at their command to get the Hyde Act passed. The campaign orchestrated by the embassy is there for all to see. Was that a thoughtless act of misjudgement? Or was it because India felt that the provisions of the Hyde Act were harmless, to say the least? I think it was the latter, because there was no other way of getting an enabling resolution adopted to permit the 123 agreement.

The balance between the rights and obligations in the India-US Joint Statement of 2005 could not be sustained because of the opposition voiced to it by critics in India and the United States. The Hyde Act was acceptable to India in 2006 because its wording was such that would not hurt India's interests. No US official, not even the president, will be able to disown the Hyde Act, but they can apply it in a manner that does justice to the spirit of the agreement. The way US Presidents dealt with the Pressler Amendment in the case of Pakistan is a case in point. They merrily certified that Pakistan had no nuclear weapons as long as they wanted the aid to flow.

If the NSG is seeking to bring into the waiver only those elements which India has approved in one way or the other in the last three years, we should have no hesitation to discuss the amendments suggested. There is no such thing as an unconditional waiver, as is obvious from the present draft. But if the NSG is suggesting inclusion of new conditionalities such as signing of the NPT or CTBT even in the distant future, they should be rejected outright.

But if they want an assertion of our moratorium, our willingness to negotiate FMCT in good faith, our safeguards agreement with the IAEA, our agreement to sign an Additional Protocol and to adopt stringent export regulations and our separation plan, we shall lose nothing. These are the real basis on which the 123 agreement stands. The US cannot ask of the NSG not to insist on conditions that the United States has found important to insist on in the new dispensation.

One reason that the United States has advanced as a justification for an exemption for India from the NSG guidelines is that India will be a contributing partner in the non-proliferation regime, once it accepts safeguards. When India insists that the deal is purely for energy and not for assisting in non-proliferation even by implication, the NSG members become perplexed and suspicious.

The hardened attitude of the NSG countries must be a consequence of the active internal debate in India. Our envoys must have made every effort to alleviate their fears by making various assurances, but they have with them the reports of the declaration of our passionate attachment to the right to test, even though we know that any test will sound the death knell of the deal itself. If there is no Hyde act, there is the Glenn Amendment, which imposes even economic sanctions against any non-NPT country which tests a nuclear weapon. We saw how stringently sanctions were imposed on India and Pakistan in 1998.

The dichotomy between the moratorium and the freedom to test is something the world does not understand. Since many of the NSG countries are signatories of the CTBT, which prohibits trade with those who test, they would want an assurance that we would abide by the moratorium, if not subscribe to CTBT. Our right to test is not affected by the deal, but it is illusory to think that there will be no international consequence to testing in the future, whether there is a deal or not.

Reports from Vienna [Images] indicate that there is no animosity towards India in the NSG and what the countries like Ireland, Austria, Switzerland [Images] and New Zealand [Images] are trying to do is to reconcile their own laws and attachment to non-proliferation with India's energy deeds. They do not have such overwhelming business interests in India like the US and others to justify making a special dispensation for India. They will, at the same time, go the extra mile to support India and, more importantly, the United States.

Diplomacy is the art of the possible and it will not be beyond the ingenuity of our diplomats to find a wording that can salvage the exemption, given the goodwill on both sides. It will be a great pity if the deal India has piloted thus far is abandoned for the sake of form rather than substance. It must be made clear that we shall not accept new conditionalities such as signing of NPT, signing of CTBT or prohibition of reprocessing and enrichment. They form the bath water that must be thrown away. But the baby is too precious to be discarded along with the bath water.

T P Sreenivasan, a former member of the Indian Foreign Service, was India's ambassador to the United Nations, Vienna, and governor for India, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.

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