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'India nuclear deal still a bit of lemon'

A leading US critic of the deal says it will enable India to increase its arsenal by freeing its local uranium reserves.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2007 14:50 IST

A leading critic of the India-US civil nuclear deal says it was still "a bit of a lemon" as it will enable New Delhi to increase its nuclear arsenal by freeing its scarce domestic uranium reserves.

"In response, China may push to cut a similar deal with Pakistan, which could further destabilise South Asia," Howard Berman, second ranking Democratic member of the House foreign affairs committee, said offering well-worn arguments against the deal.

But in a keynote address last week at the annual luncheon of the Arms Control Association ACA), a Washington based disarmament lobby, he also considered non-proliferation challenges posed by North Korea and Iran as "much more urgent".

Disgraced Pakistani scientist "AQ Khan's nuclear black market opened up a whole new dimension of nuclear proliferation. Most troubling of all, the same terrorists that attacked us on 9/11 are dedicated to acquiring WMD and, unlike a state, can't be deterred," he said according to the transcript of meeting released on Friday.

Daryl G Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, suggested that thanks to amendments offered by Berman to the India bill, they were able to turn this "nonproliferation lemon into some lemonade". Berman agreed it helped make a bad bill better. "Although, on balance, I think it's still probably a bit of a lemon."

Given the strong opposition of the administration, given the tremendous investment by the Indian-American community in passing the legislation and keeping that kind of an amendment out, we really did much better than I think almost anyone thought, the lawmaker said.

"Based on my observation of the administration's negotiating strategy with the Indian government, I think we might want to consider negotiations as an additional outsourcing opportunity, or that's what we did in this case," Berman added sarcastically.

However, unlike the administration's initial proposal to implement the deal, the version enacted into law requires Congress to approve the final nuclear cooperation agreement with India by an affirmative majority vote, he said.

Before that vote takes place, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) must approve an exemption for India, and India and the IAEA must complete a safeguards agreement.

The bill now includes language that prevents the president from waiving key portions of the Atomic Energy Act and includes a provision that terminates nuclear cooperation if India transfers nuclear or missile technology in violation of NSG or Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines, Berman said.

Noting that the CTBT can't enter into force until it is signed and ratified by 44 specific countries, including India and Pakistan, he said strong US support for the treaty and the ultimate goal may persuade those countries to get onboard.

"But if it doesn't, we might want to consider the possibility of working with the P-5 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and other like-minded states to propose a new test ban treaty that doesn't have such rigid requirements," Berman suggested.

In the context of the India negotiations, Berman alleged that "those people who were most responsible and interested in non-proliferation issues, it seemed to me, by the end were totally frozen out of the final negotiations."

"There are different reasons to be for the agreement and then some strong non-proliferation reasons not to be, but you didn't get that mix into the final negotiations. It was as if people with non-proliferation interests enter, they would just be impediments to reaching the deal we have got to reach in the time we have got to reach it," he added.

Berman said he was somewhat sceptical on just how much nuclear energy benefits India will get from the deal, but even for very stalwart non-proliferation people, more important was the political relationship with India, he said.

It also "became a matter of tremendous pride for the Indian-American community. They were activated. They have extensive networks. They worked it very hard and promoted it," he said.

"It played a huge role for a lot of Democrats who had no interest in the issue, who didn't know what we were talking about, and who were not on the committees. Oh, so and so wants it or this group of folks came? Sure I'll vote for it. That also was a big part of this," Berman said.