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Nuclear reactions

With Iran in the backdrop, where is the Indo-US nuclear deal heading? asks former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha.
By Yashwant Sinha | None
PUBLISHED ON JAN 29, 2006 02:39 AM IST

The July 18, 2005 nuclear deal with the US has divided Indian public opinion as never before. While the supporters of the deal have described it as historic and want people to believe that India has finally been recognised as a nuclear weapon state, those opposed to the deal have described it as an unequal deal which would cap India’s nuclear weapons programme in perpetuity and would require India to enter into multilateral commitments in return for bilateral assurances from the US.  The developments which have taken place since then make the deal even more onerous for India.   

The cardinal principles on which the agreement was based were its voluntary nature, its phase-wise implementation, reciprocity and parity with other nuclear weapon states like the US. All these assumptions are in jeopardy today. Additionally, unlike us, the constitutional arrangement in the US requires the agreement to be approved by the US Congress before it comes into force. So, the views of US legislators assume an importance which the views of Indian Parliamentarians do not have. It is this which makes the Iran angle so crucial.

As far as the voluntary nature of the agreement is concerned, we now know from the experience of a few rounds of negotiations between the two governments, that the identification and separation of military and civilian facilities is hardly within the sovereign jurisdiction of our government. The US officials have repeatedly stated that the separation will have to be credible and transparent, which means that it will not merely have to satisfy the US administration, but also the US Congress.

The reported pressure by the US to put  our thorium-based fast breeder reactor programme in the civilian category, is a case in point. The phased manner of its implementation loses all meaning if we are required to identify all the facilities as either military or civilian to begin with. The principle of reciprocity has been completely destroyed post July 2005. Speaking before the National Strategy Forum in Chicago on November 14, 2005, Andrew K Semmel, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Nonproliferation stated, “ Under this partnership, India has committed to a series of actions including implementing strong and effective export control legislation, adhering to the NSG Guidelines on exports, separating its civil and military facilities and placing all its civilian facilities and activities under IAEA safeguards, signing and adhering to an Additional Protocol, and maintaining its nuclear testing moratorium. In return, the United States will pursue the necessary changes to US national laws and international regimes, to allow full civil nuclear cooperation with India.” 

In his prepared remarks for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on November 2, 2005, Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs said, “Our judgement is that it would not be wise or fair to ask Congress to make such a consequential decision without evidence that the Indian government was acting on what is arguably the most important of its commitments — the separation of its civilian and military nuclear facilities. I told the Indian leadership in Delhi two weeks ago that it must craft a credible and transparent plan and begin to implement it before the Administration would request Congressional action.”

In his prepared remarks for the same meeting, Robert G. Joseph, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security said, “We expect — and have indicated to the Government of India —that India’s separation of its civil and military nuclear infrastructure must be conducted in a credible and transparent manner, and be defensible from a nonproliferation standpoint. In other words, the separation and the resultant safeguards must contribute to our nonproliferation goals. Many of our international partners have similarly indicated that they view this as a necessary precondition, and will not be able to support civil nuclear cooperation with India otherwise. We believe that the Indian government understands this”.

Because the US system is far more transparent than our own and the US administration far more accountable to the US Congress than ours is to the Indian Parliament, these observations of US officials give us a far better understanding of the nuclear deal than the reticence of our own Government would ever. As far as recognition of India as a nuclear weapon state is concerned, the following testimony of Robert Joseph made things amply clear when he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 2, 2005 that “our initiative with India does not recognise India as a nuclear weapon state”. 

And finally, as far as the Iran angle is concerned, Ambassador Mulford only told the truth when he said that the nuclear deal will die in the US Congress if India voted in the IAEA on February 2, in any other manner than the US wishes us to do. This was so even in September 2005, when India voted against Iran in the IAEA.  Tom Lantos, a leading Democrat and a member of the House International Relations Committee, said during the hearings of the Committee on September 8, 2005, “I want the administration to hear clearly from this Committee.

New Delhi must understand how important their cooperation and support is to US initiatives, to counter the nuclear threat from Iran — anything less than full support will imperil the expansion of US nuclear and security cooperation with New Delhi.” And after describing the then External Affairs Minister of India, Shri Natwar Singh as “dense”, he went on to say, “And they (Indians) need to be told that (that they will pay a very heavy price for their total disregard of US concerns vis-à-vis Iran) in plain English — in plain English, not in diplomatic English … Either with us or against us.” What Ambassador Mulford has said the other day, is sweet music compared to the war-like rhetoric of Tom Lantos. Does the Government of India have a choice on Iran? Does it have the authority any more to conduct its foreign policy according to its own sovereign judgement?

The fact of the matter is that the US has shifted the goal-post even further than it was on July 18, 2005. The bar today is much higher. And the new litmus test before us is our vote on the Iran issue. We must toe the US line if we want the nuclear deal to succeed, even as modified and changed by the US post July 18, 2005.

The writer is a former External Affairs Minister (2002-2004) and is a BJP Lok Sabha MP

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