A new US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report has suggested that India's long relationship with Iran and its support of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) positions on non-proliferation are obstacles to India's taking a hard line on Iran.
Yet the Bush administration has asserted that US-India nuclear cooperation would bring India into the "non-proliferation mainstream," says the report released ahead of next week's session of the outgoing lame-duck Congress that's due to take up the enabling legislation on the India-US nuclear deal in its final form.
The US Senate and the House of Representatives have both overwhelmingly approved two different versions of the enabling bills. The foreign relations panels of the two chambers are expected to meet in a conference to draw up a common bill for final approval by Congress.
The Bush administration has made the India deal as one of its top legislative priorities for the lame-duck session and said that it would try to have New Delhi's concerns as also those of the Congress addressed at the conference. Iran is one such sticky point.
As State department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters on Monday it would encourage Congress not to make such changes to the legislation that would materially affect the administration ability to implement the agreement.
CRS, which provides background material to Congress on issues before it, says during the Congressional hearings on the India deal, members had questioned whether India's cooperation with Iran might affect Washington's efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
India, like most other states, does not support a nuclear weapons option for Iran. However, its views of the Iranian threat and appropriate responses differ significantly from US views, it said.
Entities in India and Iran appear to have engaged in very limited nuclear, chemical and missile-related transfers over the years, and some sanctions have been imposed on Indian entities for transfers to Iran, the latest in July 2006, the report said.
US law requires recipients of US nuclear cooperation to guarantee the non-proliferation of any US material or equipment transferred. If a recipient state assists, encourages or induces a non-nuclear weapon state to engage in nuclear weapons related activities, exports must cease.
India's non-proliferation record continues to be scrutinised, as India continues to take steps to strengthen its own export controls, CRS said.
Additional measures of Indian support could include diplomatic support for negotiations with Iran; support for Bush administration efforts to restrict enrichment and reprocessing; support for multilateral fuel cycle initiatives, and for the Proliferation Security Initiative, the report suggested.
Another tool that may be utilised by those desiring to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).
Both the House (H.R. 5682) and Senate (S. 3709) bills to create an exception for India from relevant provisions of the US Atomic Energy Act refer to the desirability of getting India to join PSI, but do not make it a prerequisite for cooperation, the report noted.
Finally, efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons rely on coordinated export controls and strong national export control systems.
India has agreed to harmonise its export controls with the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group under the July 18, 2005 Joint Statement. India also passed a new law in May 2005, the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Bill.
The CRS reports cited "some observers" as suggesting that India does not have the necessary regulations in place to implement the law, and that India 's resources for implementation are remarkably limited.
A third issue is whether India will follow through in imposing penalties on violators of export control laws and regulations, it said as one consideration in assessing a country's non-proliferation record is the extent to which its export control and procurement system helps limit or eliminate illicit transfers.
The report cited David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, as arguing that three factors contribute to a flawed non-proliferation record for India in the nuclear area.
These are: a poorly implemented national export control system; an illicit procurement system for its own nuclear weapons programme, and a procurement system that may unwittingly transfer sensitive information about uranium enrichment.
When asked formally to respond to Albright's allegations, the administration stated it would be happy to discuss the allegations in a classified session with Members of Congress, the CRS report noted.