US deal will let India expand nuclear arms
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US deal will let India expand nuclear arms

But it is unclear if the two governments can reach an agreement before Bush's visit.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2006 18:36 IST
Carol Giacomo (Reuters)
Carol Giacomo (Reuters)

A landmark new US-India nuclear agreement would enable New Delhi to expand atomic weapons production and encourage Pakistan and China to do likewise, according to critics of the controversial deal.

In analysis to be made public on Wednesday, non-proliferation experts expressed grave concerns about a proposed "separation" plan that would open India's civil nuclear facilities to UN inspections, while permitting military facilities to remain off-limits.

The plan is central to whether the US-India nuclear deal, agreed last July, goes forward.

US business leaders say the deal could open the door to billions of dollars in non-nuclear and civilian nuclear-related contracts while government officials say the agreement commits India to play a larger role in halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

But the two governments are at odds over details, and it is unclear if they can reach agreement before President George W Bush visits New Delhi in early March.

But even if the Bush administration deemed the plan credible and all civilian facilities were placed under permanent international monitoring, the sale of US and other foreign fuel to India "would still free-up India's existing capacity to produce plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons and allow for the rapid expansion of India's nuclear arsenal," the experts said in a memo to the US Congress obtained by Reuters.

"A sober analysis reveals the non-proliferation benefits of the original proposal are overstated and the damage to the non-proliferation regime is potentially high," said the memo, prepared by Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association and five others.

For 30 years, the United States led the effort to deny India nuclear technology because it tested and developed nuclear weapons in contravention of international norms.

Both India and Pakistan have refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But Bush now views India, a rising democratic and economic power on China's border, as an evolving US ally and the new nuclear deal -- allowing India to purchase nuclear reactors and fuel -- is central to that vision.

Kimball said on Tuesday he believed the deal may "fall apart" over the separation plan because India wants to exclude a large number of civilian facilities and spent fuel from international inspections.

The plan aims to ensure US nuclear technology is never used for military purposes and in theory would make civilian facilities less susceptible to proliferation.

But if India buys US and other foreign nuclear fuel and continues to expand its nuclear arsenal, this would force Pakistan to increase its arsenal and encourage China to continue modernizing, Kimball said.

Leonard Weiss, a chief architect of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Act of 1978 when he was staff director of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs from 1977 to 1999, said in his analysis that if the deal enables India to ramp up its weapons production, this was a violation of US obligations under the NPT, the bedrock arms control pact.

Weiss, Kimball and other experts told Congress that 11 operating power reactors in India may have produced as much as 9,000 kilograms of plutonium, which could be processed to make 1,000 nuclear weapons.

India has an estimated 50 nuclear weapons now and a goal of 300-400 weapons in a decade, the experts said.

The administration has been worried about the nuclear deal's fate, but a senior official said late on Tuesday he is more optimistic than he was two weeks ago.

Aiming to move away from the controversy and set a positive tone for Bush's visit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to address Parliament on relations with the United States on February 20 and Bush two days later will make a speech to the Asia Society with a focus on India, US and other sources said.

First Published: Feb 15, 2006 18:28 IST