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123... India, US eventually seal the nuclear deal

The complete text of the historic pact will be made available next week, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury. What will it do for India

india Updated: Jul 28, 2007 10:22 IST
Nilova Roy Chaudhury
Nilova Roy Chaudhury
Hindustan Times

India and the United States have completed negotiations on civil nuclear cooperation and jointly announced they have sealed a deal as equals which they consider a "historic milestone", set to "transform" the bilateral relationship.

The 123 Agreement is "between two states possessing advanced nuclear technology, both parties having the same benefits and advantages," a factsheet on the agreement said.

"The United States and India have reached a historic milestone in their strategic partnership by completing negotiations on the bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation," External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a joint statement issued simultaneously in Washington and New Delhi on Friday.

The complete text of the 123 Agreement has not yet been made public, but is likely to be available "as soon as next week", before the monsoon session of Parliament commences on August 10, National Security Adviser MK Narayanan said.

The NSA, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman Anil Kakodkar and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon jointly addressed a press conference to allay public apprehensions about the deal reached between Indian and American negotiators last week.

"This agreement will govern civil nuclear trade between our two countries and open the door for American and Indian firms to participate in each other's civil nuclear energy sector," the statement said. This could begin after the next steps in the process, negotiating an India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and an "unconditional waiver" from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, are completed, "hopefully by the end of the year," Menon said.

In Washington, during a briefing which was shown to Indian journalists at the American Centre in Delhi, US Under Secretary of State for South Asia Nicholas Burns said the 123 Agreement was "the single most important initiative between the United States and India". He said that the agreement was so significant and complex that "the US will never offer (it to) any other country in the world".

Asked if Congress was likely to pass it once India reached an agreement with the IAEA and got support from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Burns said, "Congress is going to want to see the fine print."

But he added that the agreement was "well within the Hyde Act", and hoped that it would win the same kind of "bipartisan support" that the Hyde Act did.

He stressed that India's offer to create a reprocessing facility under IAEA safeguards was the "turning point" in the negotiations that took two years and two days to complete, and told American reporters that the US had retained its right to return under the Atomic Energy Act in case India tested a nuclear weapon.

The deal provides for full civil nuclear energy cooperation covering nuclear reactors and aspects of the associated nuclear fuel cycle including enrichment and reprocessing. It also "contains a full reflection of the March 2, 2006 supply assurances, and the provision for corrective measures," the fact sheet said. It provides for development of a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply over the lifetime of India's safeguarded reactors, ensuring no repetition of the Tarapur experience.

Underlining that "the purpose of the agreement is to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation," Narayanan said there is no specific reference in the deal to India testing a nuclear device or detonating a nuclear weapon.

"This agreement is intended for full civil nuclear cooperation... potentially most important for energy security," the NSA said. "We are not using it as an excuse to enhance our strategic capabilities," he said. "If we need additionality to our strategic stockpile, we know how to do it. We don't need to use this route for it," Narayanan said, responding to criticism that the deal would fuel a nuclear race in the region.

Earlier on Friday, the AEC met to discuss "threadbare" details of the 123 Agreement to operationalise civil nuclear cooperation, and Kakodkar pronounced he was "satisfied" with the deal. The agreement grants India "prior consent" to reprocess nuclear material, transfer nuclear material and its products, conceding a key Indian concern over what to do with its safeguarded spent fuel and making it the only non P-5 and non-NPT signatory country to get this right.

India will set up a national reprocessing facility to reprocess IAEA safeguarded nuclear material, with India and the United States agreeing on the specific arrangements for such a facility within a year.

Narayanan, conceded that this may not have been the "best possible deal" but said, "the text is an excellent one."

Strongly denying suggestions that India had mortgaged its right to conduct nuclear tests in the future to the United States, he said, "we have not mortgaged any right. If anything, we have only enhanced our right".

First Published: Jul 27, 2007 18:35 IST