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Ambiguity in IAEA nuclear text raises concern

The draft nuclear safeguards pact India submitted to the IAEA on Wednesday contains ambiguities that must be clarified before the UN watchdog approves the deal, a leading expert said.
Reuters | By Paul Eckert, Washington
UPDATED ON JUL 10, 2008 08:58 AM IST

The draft nuclear safeguards pact India submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency on Wednesday contains ambiguities that must be clarified before the U.N. watchdog approves the deal, a leading expert said.

The IAEA said the safeguards text, which India hammered out with IAEA inspectors early this year and is a key element in a landmark 2005 U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation deal, had been sent to the agency's 35-nation board in Vienna after the New Delhi government gave the green light.

The draft, which was circulated by Washington-based think tanks, contained several points that "raise questions that board members need to get clarity on" because they would restrict international monitoring of India's atomic programs, said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association.

He said a key red flag is raised by a clause in the draft that says India "may take corrective measures to ensure uninterrupted operation of its civilian nuclear reactors in the event of disruption of foreign fuel supplies."

Disruption of fuel supplies would happen only if India were to resume testing of nuclear weapons and that loophole would blunt any IAEA effort to keep that country's civil nuclear power program from being used to augment its atomic arsenal.

"Does that mean that India intends to withdraw from what are supposed to be permanent safeguards if it tests and other states decide to terminate fuel supplies?" asked Kimball.

"If so, that is a big problem and the Indian government has not clarified what that means," he said.


India -- one of just three nations outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- developed atomic bombs in secret and conducted a nuclear test in 1974, prompting the United States to ban sales of U.S. nuclear fuel and reactor technology.

The draft, which in many respects resembles IAEA agreements with other countries, also omits a list of nuclear facilities that India has voluntarily agreed to place under IAEA safeguards, said Kimball, calling that "abnormal".

India's motives were not clear, he said, but added that it appeared "they're trying to preserve their options to put some reactors in or take some out" from IAEA scrutiny, depending on future bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements.

In addition to getting IAEA governors' approval, India must also obtain a waiver for the nuclear deal from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, where some members may resist the deal because NSG regulations ban trade with non-NPT states.

Proponents of the U.S.-India accord say it will move the Asian giant's trade and diplomatic relations closer to the West and more broadly promote an alternative to high-polluting and expensive oil and gas energy in developing nations.

Critics say it will encourage nuclear proliferators and weaken the Western case against the nuclear ambitions of Iran or North Korea.

Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a former Bush administration official and proponent of the deal, said fears of another Indian nuclear weapons test were theoretical and India had too much to risk by testing.

"With the investments that they have made in this deal, the incentives not to test actually grow," he said.

"If India tests in the future, it will not be the first to test. It will test most likely in response to somebody else testing," added Tellis.

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