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India firm on N-test prerogative

INDIA HAS denied claims it has agreed to a permanent ban on its ability to carry out nuclear tests as part of the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Officials said the ban was part of a draft put forward by US negotiators a few weeks ago. The Indian side rejected the testing ban, saying it was bound only by its existing voluntary moratorium.

india Updated: Apr 18, 2006 01:28 IST

INDIA HAS denied claims it has agreed to a permanent ban on its ability to carry out nuclear tests as part of the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Officials said the ban was part of a draft put forward by US negotiators a few weeks ago. The Indian side rejected the testing ban, saying it was bound only by its existing voluntary moratorium.

On Monday, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Navtej Sarna said: "The US had shared with India some weeks ago a preliminary draft agreement on Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation under Article 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act. In preliminary discussions on these elements, India conveyed to the US that such a provision has no place in the proposed bilateral agreement."

"India is bound only by what is contained in the July 18 Joint Statement, that is, continuing its commitment to a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing," Sarna said. Washington inserted a clause that would end bilateral civil nuclear collaboration if India detonated a nuclear explosive device in its draft because of existing clauses in the US Atomic Energy and Arms Export Acts.  India made it clear it would not accept such a linkage in the 123 Agreement.India accepts it cannot do anything about US laws banning nuclear cooperation with any country that carries out a nuclear test, but will not accept them as part of a bilateral agreement. Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran noted last week on TV that they were not "India-specific". Indian officials also clarified that contrary to reports, no US laws stop India from carrying out so-called subcritical nuclear tests -- tests that do not release energy. This is clear by the definition of a "nuclear explosion" in Section 830 of the US's own Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act.

India's refusal to accept the test ban clause is unlikely to have any impact on the US Congress.

The legislation being moved by the Bush administration leaves the negotiating of the 123 Agreement in the White House's hands. "No formal negotiations of the agreement have even begun," said an Indian official.

Sarna also said India's position on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty remained that it would not sign the treaty unless all countries dismantled their nuclear arsenals.