Washington is “confident” the final congressional version of the Indo-US nuclear bill will be “acceptable” to both India and the US, said State Department number three Nicholas Burns in New York City on Monday.
Asked by Hindustan Times whether this would mean the bill would incorporate Indian demands that there be no curbs on access to sensitive nuclear technologies such as reprocessing and enrichment, Burns said only that the Senate version of the bill, fulfilled the framework of the George W Bush-Manmohan Singh agreement of July last year.
Burns noted that India had reservations about some provisions of the House and Senate bills. “Some” of these reservations would be addressed, he said, adding that the current Senate bill was “very good” and “went beyond anything I thought we could have gotten.” Burns was giving a talk entitled “US policy towards South Asia” at the Asia Society.
The US undersecretary for political affair’s statement may supply ammunition to Indian critics of the nuclear deal. Section 106 of the Senate bill prohibits the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology to India.
New Delhi may have asked for too much believes Professor Anupam Srivastava of the Center for International Trade and Security, University of Georgia. This ban, he notes, “is standard US policy and not India-specific.”
In any case, Srivastava says, India does not need these technologies because it “has constantly claimed to have complete mastery over the entire nuclear fuel cycle” – at the heart of which are reprocessing and enrichment. “They were never promised within the deal,” he says. “Delhi should accept this prohibition.”
Another part of the Senate bill that Indian critics have objected to is the first two parts of Section 107 (b). These require Washington to report on Indian facilities that will receive nuclear technology and materials as well set up a monitoring mechanism on how such technology and materials are used.
Srivastava says New Delhi should negotiate to ensure US inspectors do not get a “free rein” in India. However, this is also not an India-specific requirement. India can easily limit the scope of such US demands in the still-to-be-completed bilateral 123 agreement which will specify how the broad congressional legislation will be implemented.
However Teresita Schaffer, South Asia director for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Indian concerns about many of the Senate bill’s provisions are overblown. “The legislation imposes restrictions on the US government, not on India.
Essentially that is our problem, not yours.” She also noted Burns would have been foolish to declare what would or would not be in the final legislation. Indian diplomats concurred, saying that given the early state of negotiations between the House and the Senate, “no one actually knows.”
Burns, who will be going to India next week, noted that after the US Congress passes the final version of the bill, the 123 agreement and an Indian agreement with the IAEA would need to be completed “within a few months.” He noted how think tanks and others had launched a “barrage of criticism” against the nuclear deal when it was first announced, claiming it would lead to “proliferation in South Asia.”
Burns said the US critics missed the point, “What we were really doing was bringing the soon-to-be biggest nation in the world into the nuclear nonproliferation system.” He added, “The only other option – keep India on the outside – simply didn’t make any sense to us.” Burns said Washington’s new focus on South Asia was an acceptance that “what happens in South Asia is vital to the security of the US.”
In the case of India, the US goal was the “creation of a new strategic relationship” and the completion of the “ultimate unfulfilled relationship.”
He noted that though the media focus had been on the nuclear deal, the Bush-Manmohan agreement was far more ambitious and incorporated major initiatives in space, agriculture, energy and business. Burns said, “India today is what Japan was in the 1970s or China was in the 1980s.