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Where does the N-bill go from here?

The head of Henry Stimson Centre says the final bill will still have provisions 'unacceptable' to Manmohan, reports Pramit Pal Chaudhuri.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2006 03:44 IST

When it comes to the US legislation, the Senate and House have passed slightly different nuclear deal bills. These must now be reconciled. No one expects this to be a problem as the joint committee largely consists of sponsors of the bill.

However, Michael Krepon, head of the Henry Stimson Centre, believes “the final bill will still have some provisions deemed 'unacceptable' to Manmohan Singh.”

Likely to happen early in the week starting on December 4, when Congress comes back from its Thanksgiving holiday. The final bill will then be voted by the full House and Senate, following which President Bush will sign it. These last two steps are a simple formality.

There are three major agreements that must now be negotiated and finalised:

First is a detailed Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation accord, a so-called “123 agreement,” which would explain what exactly the two countries will do with each other.

University of Illinois’s Sumit Ganguly says the 123 agreement seems “to be at odds with parts of the Senate bill” that was just passed. This must be okayed by the US Congress, but is unlikely to be politicized.

Second is an IAEA inspection regime of India’s civilian nuclear programme that will satisfy the international community. This is likely to difficult, given the sensitivities of the Department of Atomic Energy and the more intrusive nature of present-day inspections. But it is an administrative, not a political problem.

But Teresita Schaffer of the Centre for Strategic and International warns that, “India will want the 123 and the IAEA agreements to ratify its ‘quasi-nuclear weapons state’ status. In the end, they will have to settle for leaving a lot of things that symbolise this status unwritten.”

Third, the final stage is for the multilateral Nuclear Suppliers Group to agree to extend the exemption granted by US law would now apply globally. Indian diplomats say most of the NSG members are on board.

One non-proliferation hardliner, Ireland, recently indicated it would not block India. Countries like Austria and the Netherlands are still fence-sitting. Strangely, New Zealand is proving to be the most ardent opponent of India’s nuclear club membership.

There still remains the problem of nuclear strings by individual countries. This is one reason many don’t believe India will buy too much civilian nuclear technology from the US.

Says Krepon, “My sense is that India will buy its power plants from Russia and France, which won't impose ‘unacceptable' conditions.”

What about Pakistan?

A debate has already arisen among analysts as to how Pakistan will respond. Traditionally, China has used nuclear and missile technology to compensate Pakistan for its strategic decline in comparison to India.

Nonproliferation expert Krepon, argues “Pakistan is likely to finalize a side deal for nuclear power plants with China, and compete with India on the military side of the nuclear equation. So expect growing nuclear weapon requirements in India, China, and Pakistan.”

But US and Indian diplomats believe that Beijing will restrict itself to offering a couple of civilian reactors. US senators have already warned that any Chinese deal will be blocked at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Beijing may not be unhappy – it just needs to be able to tell Islamabad that it tried.