Draft skirts future nuclear test issue
There's no reference to the all-crucial issue of a future nuclear test being conducted by India in the draft ‘123 agreement’ that’s been agreed to after long, hard negotiations with the United States in Washington.
Senior officials familiar with the text of the draft told the Hindustan Times on Wednesday that India had obtained a “very decent agreement” at the end of the day — exactly two years after the civil nuclear initiative was agreed upon by the two sides in July 2005.
By not including the issue of a possible Indian nuclear test, the two countries have gotten around the question, which will, on the American side, be governed by the terms and conditions of the Hyde Act. Under the Hyde Act, all civilian nuclear cooperation between India and the US is supposed to stop in the case of a future Indian nuclear test, but the draft accord now allows for “a lot of consultations” between the two countries, including the creation of a working group.
Though full details of this mechanism are awaited, the fact is that India has bought itself time for interim consultations with the American executive before the US Congress can invoke the terms of the Hyde Act.
Washington has also expressly recognised India’s right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel — in the form of a separate facility that will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Asked when this facility would be up and running, the officials responded that there was a provision in the draft ‘123 agreement’, which required negotiations to be concluded between six and 12 months of India making a request for a reprocessing facility.
While New Delhi will now approach the IAEA for negotiations on an India-specific safeguards agreement as per the March 2006 plan to separate civilian and strategic facilities, the US will lobby the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to lift curbs on India. Finally, an “up-down” vote by the US Congress on the draft 123 text is expected. This, officials say, could well extend into 2008.
The Indian side is also linking the issue of uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel to the commitment on perpetual safeguards agreed to in the March 2006 separation plan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Rajya Sabha on August 17, 2006, that the “understandings” in the plan provided for the contingency of disruption of fuel supplies to India given the unhappy experience in Tarapur. “In the event of disruption of fuel supplies despite the assurances, India will have a right to take corrective measure to ensure the operation of its nuclear reactors,” he said.
One area in which India has not been able to nudge the US is that of providing New Delhi with enrichment and reprocessing technology. There has been no forward movement on this issue, the officials maintained.
While the draft text is yet to be made public, and many are waiting to see it before making a comment, official circles are certainly upbeat at the conclusion of negotiations. The officials feel the Indian side did not blink in the face of mounting pressure in the negotiations and stuck to their ground on key issues like reprocessing, non-extension of India’s voluntary commitment that it will not test again and the uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel.
With External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee saying on Wednesday that “all concerns of India have been reflected and have been adequately addressed” in the draft accord, the stage appears set for a visit by the Prime Minister to the US.