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'US, India to make the N-deal happen'

world Updated: May 11, 2007 11:15 IST
Arun Kumar
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The United States says its civil nuclear deal with India is important to both countries and they are "determined to make it happen".

US President George W Bush had in a recent conversation with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked about working forward to conclude the deal, White House spokesman Tony Snow said on Thursday.

"They're both in support of it and-look, it's important for us, it's important for the government of India and we're determined to make it happen," he added.

Asked if Bush was aware of a letter supposedly sent by the foreign relations committee of the US House of representatives to the Prime Minister of India regarding the nuclear deal, Snow said, "He may be; I'm not".

Snow declined to confirm if Bush was going to invite Singh to the White House sometime this year or next year, saying, "I will not get into any sort of personal conversations of that nature."

Meanwhile, a US non-proliferation hawk has cautioned the Democratic controlled Congress against allowing the administration to "negotiate away" two key conditions relating to plutonium reprocessing and nuclear testing.

Months after Congress blessed the concept, negotiations have stalled on at least two major sticking points, Sharon Squassoni, a senior associate in the Nonproliferation programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted in an article in washingtonpost.com's "Think Tank Town" on Thursday.

India desires advance consent to extract plutonium from reactor fuel that would be provided by the US and other foreign suppliers and opposes any cutoff in cooperation should it test a nuclear device again, but "these are not merely technical details," Squassoni said.

"The Republican-controlled Congress of last year insisted that the plutonium reprocessing and nuclear testing conditions were necessary to maintain the integrity of US and international non-proliferation policies. It would be irresponsible for a Democratic-controlled Congress now to allow these provisions to be negotiated away," Squassoni said.

Commenting on Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon's recent visit "to save the troubled US-India nuclear deal", he said, "Nonproliferation watchdogs and many countries that do not have nuclear weapons howled over this radical jettisoning of rules established to reward states that signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty."

"Providing long-term consent to reprocess spent fuel from reactors would undermine the current US policy of not encouraging the use of plutonium and highly enriched uranium in the civilian nuclear fuel cycle, particularly in breeder reactors (which can make more plutonium than they burn up)."

"Allowing India to test again without risking foreign nuclear cooperation would severely undermine global non-proliferation," Squassoni said.

While Congress gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt on nuclear cooperation with India, it did not give him a blank cheque, he said. Congress retained the right to stop the agreement from entering into force if it did not uphold the conditions it established last year in authorising the administration to finalise the agreement with India.

In the last two years of negotiations, the United States has given inches and India has taken miles, Squassoni suggested. From the July 2005 announcement of the initiative to President Bush's visit to India in March 2006, the United States has repeatedly missed opportunities to prevent this cooperation from eroding the global non-proliferation bulwark, Squassoni contended.

While it is too late to correct these missteps, US law still provides for some barriers to proliferation, and US negotiators should ensure that the peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement meets the letter and spirit of that law, the writer said.

The agreement should specify case-by-case approval of Indian reprocessing of US spent fuel, and explicitly require termination of cooperation and return of US materials and equipment should India test, Squassoni suggested.

"Surely, no nonproliferation benefits are served by further Indian nuclear tests and the US nuclear cooperation agreement needs to reflect that. Anything less should be rejected by Congress," Squassoni said.