India-US Nuclear Deal Inches Ahead

Deepak Mahaan | September 8, 2008 | 5:37am EDT
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New Delhi ( will retain its sovereign right to carry out nuclear tests, former president and missile scientist Abdul Kalam said Sunday, after an agreement by nuclear-technology supplying countries took India a step closer to a historic nuclear cooperation deal with the United States.
The focus will now move to the U.S. Congress, which resumes Monday for a short session that may not find the time to ratify the agreement.
The 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on Saturday granted a special waiver that allows India to become the first country in the world to have full civil nuclear cooperation with the international community while having a nuclear weapons program and despite not having signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
To secure the NSG nod, India committed itself to a “voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing.”
But Kalam, in an interview with NDTV television, stressed that nothing could restrict India’s right to conduct future nuclear tests if needed in the country’s security interests.
The question of India’s right to test has been highly sensitive in the domestic political debate over the nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S.
Civilian nuclear trade with India has been frozen since India first conducted an atomic test in 1974. A second series of tests, conducted in 1998 under Kalam’s stewardship, brought international condemnation and severe economic sanctions.
The agreement negotiated with the U.S. allows cooperation between the two nations’ civil – not military – nuclear sectors and will include the U.S. provision of nuclear fuel for India’s energy sector. Supporters in the U.S. regard it as a significant step towards a strategic partnership with the world’s most populous democracy.
Critics worry about the proliferation implications, saying that giving India preferential sends the wrong message to other countries that may want to develop nuclear weapons.
The Arms Control Association in a weekend statement called the NSG decision “a nonproliferation disaster of historic proportions that will produce harm for decades to come.”
ACA executive director Daryl Kimball said the move “erodes the credibility of global efforts to ensure that access to peaceful nuclear trade and technology is available only to those states that meet global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament standards.”
The Indian government has also faced significant domestic opposition.
Communist parties charged that the waiver agreement reached with the NSG restricts Indian nuclear sovereignty in perpetuity while Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) secretary, Yashwant Sinha, called the development a day of “historic shame for India.”
Coming after a long, hard political struggle, the NSG waiver is seen here as a recognition of India’s growing economic power and record as a “responsible nuclear power.”
C. Raja Mohan, professor of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, argued that without India’s strategic and economic rise on the world stage, the international community would never have agreed to modify the nuclear regime in India’s favor.
Although the Bush administration is credited with recognizing India’s strategic importance and thus the need to change the nuclear rules, American business lobbies have also pushed hard for the deal.
U.S. congressional approval is now required, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned that time is “very short.”
The administration is hoping for strong bipartisan support to carry the deal through Congress quickly. Pressure is also mounting since, technically, India can start cooperation with other NSG countries now that it has secured an unconditional waiver. Agreements with France and Russia have already been negotiated.
The U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC), representing large American companies investing in India, has vowed to push for congressional ratification to “clear the way for U.S. companies to participate in India’s nuclear renaissance.”
Prof. C.N.R. Rao, scientific adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said the waiver allows Indian the freedom to use high technology in a range of scientific and industrial sectors. It can “buy uranium from various sources and other countries can come … and set up reactors,” he said.
In a blow to New Delhi, however, Australia – which has 40 percent of the world’s known uranium reserves, has reaffirmed that it will not provide uranium to India. Australia exports uranium only to those countries that have negotiated bilateral nuclear safeguards agreements.
( International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
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