India and the US script nuclear deal
It went down to the wire, but after four days of intense negotiations, Indian and US officials have agreed on a text for the 123 Agreement that substantially meets Indian concerns on reprocessing spent fuel, assured nuclear fuel supplies and crucially, the right to test a nuclear device. The agreement will herald the resumption of bilateral civil nuclear collaboration after a three-decade break, after India was outlawed from the international nuclear community for its ‘peaceful nuclear experiment’ in 1974.
The actual agreement has not been made public because it has to go back to the Union Cabinet in New Delhi and the US Congress in Washington for “final review.” The announcement and signing of the agreement is likely at the level of foreign ministers after political approvals. That is likely when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits India in August or early September, a high-level government source told HT.
“We have finalised the text of the 123, but the document cannot be divulged until the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) okays it,” a senior official involved in the talks told HT from Washington.
“There is agreement on two of the major outstanding issues: reprocessing of spent fuel and assured nuclear fuel supplies for the lifetime of a reactor. On future testing, there has been a compromise by the Americans by which if India should test, the US administration and the President would have to take a call,” said Lalit Mansingh, former Indian ambassador to the US.
The US is bound by the terms of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, “but what has been agreed upon is not automatic suspension and return of all American nuclear supplies, should India test, but taking into account the circumstances of testing, if any,” Mansingh said. He said that India had declared a voluntary moratorium on testing in 1998, and the Americans realised that India would not need to test unless its own security is compromised by another nuclear weapons state testing.
The significance of the talks and the urgency to conclude these negotiations was apparent from the level of representation of participating officials.
Not only did Burns and Menon head their delegations for the four days of meetings from July 17-20, National Security Advisor MK Narayanan and Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen and Menon met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Rice, Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and US NSA Stephen Hadley.
Chairman of the Department of Atomic Energy, Anil Kakodkar, and his deputy RB Grover were also on hand for all the technical details that required sorting out. India’s High Commissioner to Singapore S Jaishankar and his US counterpart Richard Stratford, involved in the dialogue since its inception two years ago, were also present.