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Korea test may cause hiccups

india Updated: Oct 11, 2006 16:24 IST

The North Korean nuclear test on Monday may cause some hiccups, if not major bumps, for the Indo-US nuclear deal that is awaiting passage in the US Senate. 

“The North Korean test will strengthen those who believe that the US have given away too many of the NPT principles in the India deal,” says Steve Cohen, the noted South Asia expert from the Brookings Institution. 

And there would be those who argue that the US-India deal had emboldened Pyongyang to go ahead with the test, Cohen told the Hindustan Times on Tuesday.

Cohen himself disagrees with both of those contentions, but points out: “This is politics, and the President’s popularity has been in steep decline from the time the deal was announced (coincidentally, of course) and the administration did not move strongly enough early on the deal.” 

South Asia watchers here are still trying to make an assessment on the possible fallout of the North Korean test for the India deal as both the Houses are in recess and lawmakers are out in their constituencies campaigning for the November 7 Congressional elections. 

Teresita Schaffer of the Center For Strategic and International Studies says she has been wondering if the North Korean action will come in the way of early passage of the India Bill, tentatively slated for the Senate’s lame duck session in mid-November.

“I think we’ll have to see what they say when the Congress resumes. It will be important for India to be seen to be on the same side as the rest of the international community on the North Korea issue,” she said. 

But Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center, who has been a critic of the India deal, doubts if Pyongyang’s action will have any particularly adverse effect by changing many votes in the US Congress. 

“The North Korean test underscores the Bush administration’s folly in making a relaxation of the rules of nuclear commerce its number one priority for South Asia.  But I doubt that it will change many votes on Capitol Hill.  Remorse will come later, well after the votes have been cast, with the unravelling of the nuclear suppliers group,” Krepon commented. 

Washington’s non-proliferation community, which has been waging a long battle against the Indo-US deal by demanding the setting of conditions totally unacceptable to New Delhi, is widely expected to regroup and make a fresh pitch in the coming days.

Joe Ciricione of the Council on Foreign Relations — who has advised the House of Representatives on national security and non-proliferation matters — indicated that proliferation could be a dominant theme to be whipped up in the coming days. 

On Tuesday, Ciricione said in an interview that the North Korean test could tip the scales, setting off a chain reaction through the region and around the world.

“What you're really worried about is what other countries in the region conclude from this. Does South Korea start recalculating its nuclear actions? Remember it had a nuclear program in the 70s that was stopped only under US pressure. Taiwan, similarly, had a program that they ended, Japan is sitting on top of about 23 tons of weapon usable plutonium, enough for about 8,000 nuclear weapons. Do they just start reconsidering their nuclear options?”

Ciricione further said that “all this comes back to India, to Pakistan, and Iran. It is this nuclear reaction chain that you worry about, that the whole system could tip, a collapse of the non-proliferation regime, and a cascade of proliferation. The stakes are that high.”

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