Was US considering a truncated nuclear deal with Pakistan?

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jan 22, 2016 00:41 IST
If the US wanted to push Pakistan’s case for joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it would not require congressional approval, according to a new US study. (AFP File Photo)

If the Obama administration wanted to push Pakistan’s case for joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it would not require congressional approval, according to a new US study.

The study sheds new light on talk of the US considering a nuclear deal with Pakistan similar to the one it has with India, long sought by Islamabad to ensure regional parity.

“According to US law, the United States could apparently advocate for Pakistan’s NSG membership without congressional approval,” said a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report dated January 14.

CRS produces research papers as mandated or on its own to inform and educate US lawmakers and their aides on important issues that may come up for Congress’ consideration.

A nuclear deal — a 123 Agreement — would have to be ratified by Congress, where Pakistan has few friends if any. The stalled sale of F-16 jets, as first reported by HT, being a case in point.

The CRS report titled “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons” draws on publicly available documents and news reports to estimate Pakistan has between 110 and 130 nuclear warheads.

The report said, citing news reports, that the US “is considering supporting Islamabad’s NSG membership in exchange for Pakistani actions to reduce perceived dangers associated with the country’s nuclear weapons program”.

The nuclear programme, it said quoting a Pakistani official, “is one dimensional: stopping Indian aggression before it happens. It is not for starting a war. It is for deterrence”.

But congressional sources said the report’s most significant observation was that the administration needn’t go to Congress if it was merely pursuing NSG membership for Pakistan.

A string of US media reports indicated last October, around Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s US visit, that a nuclear deal was being discussed by the two countries.

Those reports said Washington was considering pushing Islamabad’s desire for membership of the NSG, which includes 48 states that can trade nuclear materials.

But those members also have to be signatories of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Pakistan is not, like India and Israel, which have also been shut out of the group.

India’s membership, pushed by the US in the aftermath and as a result of the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement signed in 2008, is in the pipeline.

The US administration has clarified on and off the record that it is not considering a 123 Agreement — or a nuclear cooperation deal — with Pakistan.

“A 123 Agreement was never on the cards,” a congressional source said, adding, “What the administration may have been considering was a preliminary step — NSG membership.”

And it was on the table in exchange for, as reported in October, Pakistan capping its nuclear arsenal, disclosing and acknowledging in the process the exact numbers.

Islamabad too dismissed any talk of a nuclear deal later.

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