INDO-US NUKE DEAL
[Giant Leap Forward with Congressional Approval]
Indicating a watershed development on the trail of bilateral cooperation between India and the US, the US Congress on December 8, 2006 passed the legislation seeking approval to the landmark Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, shrouded in uncertainties regarding its fate ever since it was clinched in 2005. The US House of Representatives cleared the legislation with a thumping majority by a margin of 330-59 votes after a long debate during which Mr. Henry Hyde, Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and Ranking Member Mr. Tom Lantos backed it while Massachusetts Democrat Mr. Edward Markey spoke against it. Subsequently, the Senate approved a ”unanimous consent agreement” to endorse it.
With both the Houses of the US Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, having approved the historic legislation, christened as the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Bill 2006, the US administration has moved very close to being entitled to provide nuclear technology and material to India’s civilian nuclear programme, thus bringing to an end a 25-year boycott required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime. Legally, it exempts India from fulfilling Section 123(a) 2 of the US Atomic Energy Act which said cooperation was possible only when India put all its nuclear facilities under international inspection. Also, it seems to enable India to secure its entry into the nuclear mainstream with its globally recognized status as a responsible nuclear power.
The legislative go ahead given by the US Congress amounts to a radical amendment in the 1954 US law prohibiting nuclear commerce with a country which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It also signifies the resumption of Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation after a gap of 32 years since India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974.
Prior to this, the Senate on November 17, 2006, approved with an overwhelming majority and legislation to implement it. The Senate also rejected five “killer” amendments, supposed to subject India to certain unpalatable terms and conditions. The Bill got the support of a whopping 85 members in the 100-member Senate. Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Mr. Richard Lugar moved the legislation with Ranking Democrat Mr. Joseph Biden.
The agreement for the Indo-US civilian nuke deal was reached between Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and the US President Mr. George W. Bush on July 18, 2005 during Dr. Singh’s State visit to the US. Later, on March 2, 2006, the deal was clinched when Mr. Bush visited India. Since then, it has been awaiting Congressional approval. The basic objective of the deal is to allow the US to have civilian nuclear trade and technology with India besides blazing the trail for the international community to have nuclear cooperation with the country.
Indicating a paradigm shift in the existing legal status of the American nuclear policy, the Bill allows US civilian nuclear trade even with those countries, which have not allowed full international inspections. The bipartisan support to the deal came in the wake of the Senate’s rejection of the “killer” amendments, including the one seeking mandatory commitment on India’s part to stop making fissile materials and another one, enjoining upon India to snap off military ties with Iran.
After the approval of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal by the US Congress, the George Bush-led Republican government of the US has emerged unscathed from the multitude of its democratic opponents now dominating both the Houses of the Congress, besides registering a major victory on the global diplomatic front. Also, it has lain to rest a host of apprehensions and doubts, which surrounded the prospect of the deal’s uncritical ratification, expressed by analysts, experts and diplomats in both the countries.
For the Government of India, the major concern now is the yet-to-be completed 123 Agreement. In precise terms, this Agreement encapsulates the essence of the bilateral pact between the Indian and US Governments setting out how the two countries should cooperate in fissile material, equipment and fuel. The government’s cautious welcome to the legislation indicates that New Delhi wants many of the ambiguities of the legislation to be ironed out in the 123 Agreement. As Ministry of External Affairs (ME A) spokesman Navtej Sarna said, “The government notes that this draft legislation contains certain extraneous and prescriptive provisions. As the Prime Minister stated in Parliament, no legislation enacted in a foreign country can take away from us the sovereign right to conduct foreign policy determined solely by our national interests”.-Striking a more optimistic note, Arundhati Ghosh, former Indian Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament says, ‘The most important aspect is that the sanctions are over. It is unprecedented for a country to change its laws for another country, which is not even an ally. It is also unprecedented the way we have gone through a country’s legislative process as though it was our law.”
According to analysts, what the Bill does is provide the US administration with the waiver it required to begin nuclear commera. “Overall, on balance, a critical landmark has been crossed, though there are elements we would have liked not to see,” an official said, referring to Iran, India’s strategic programme and so on. But the “waivers are the heart of the Bill” and India will have to skillfully negotiate the 123 Agreement to ensure ambiguities in this bill are ironed out.
However, the dominant view prevailing among analysts is that the 123 Agreement will go a long way in nullifying much of the ongoing criticism regarding the Indo-US nuclear Bill passed by the US Congress. For instance, the rhetorical clauses on the Iran policy as also fissile material capping will not be referred to in the Agreement. Similarly, there will be no reference to the reports, which the White House may present to the Congress on India’s nuclear programme.
A somewhat disturbing feature of the 123 Agreement that the negotiators from New Delhi will definitely see to get modified or altered completely is the so-called Senator Barack Obama Amendment. Through this amendment, it has been proposed that the supply of nuclear fuel reserve to India for use in civilian reactors should be restricted to “reasonable reactor operating requirements”. Given that, one of the key objectives of negotiations and dialogues involving the diplomats and experts from the two countries in near future may be to define the term “reasonable”. Another major concern for India is the missing mention of the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel by India. In this regard, an ambiguous reference has been made in one of the clauses of the Agreement, which says that supply of uranium to be used for India’s civilian nuclear programme will depend on the operating requirements of its reactors. In some other clauses, implicit references have been made to end-use monitoring of the fuel to be exported to India. As far as the rest of salient features of the Agreement are concerned, they have already been negotiated in earlier bilateral technical talks. As Mr. Anupam Srivastava, a noted non-proliferation expert presently associated with the University of Georgia points out, ‘There was even talk of finishing it during the Nicholas Burns visit to India so that if the US Congress met in December2006, it could be passed as well”.
External Affairs Ministers Mr. Pranab Mukherjee has been closeted with officials and advisers after the US House of Representatives and the Senate finally voted to change American law to enable the administration to begin civil nuclear commerce with India. He has been consulting a wide cross-section of opinion-makers to ensure there is no misunderstanding of the context of the legislation. The government has already got assurances from some of the key members of the 45-nation NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) including the UK, France, Russia and South Africa, that they are really keen to help India in its efforts to acquire the latest equipment as well as technology for the generation of civilian nuclear power. The increased availability of nuclear energy cleaner and cheaper than thermal and hydel power is bound to help India to meet its growing fuel concern.