Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Nuclear deal in ‘make or break’ zone

‘Next week’s talks will show if the United States is taking Indian concerns seriously’, say Indian officials.

13 July 2007
The Hindu

Nuclear deal in ‘make or break’ zone

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: While nobody on the Indian side expects next week’s talks between India and the United States to fully remove the major obstacles standing in the way of the proposed nuclear cooperation (123) agreement, officials here say the interaction will at least provide them with a “clear understanding of the [Bush] administration’s intentions.”

They said India had last month conveyed a major proposal on the establishment of a fully safeguarded reprocessing facility to handle American-origin spent fuel. But until now, there has been no feedback from Washington about this suggestion. “It is possible that they have begun a process of consultation with Congressional leaders based on our ideas” to see whether a 123 agreement including reprocessing rights would pass muster on the Hill, said an official. But if that process had not even started, this could only mean the Bush administration had not taken India’s concerns seriously, he added.

If this is so, the view among officials is that further progress would be difficult if not impossible. “Neither a firm deadline nor a drawn-out process of talks will help if there is such a major gap in perception,” said an official, adding that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly said the final obligations and benefits from the deal had to be fully in conformity with what was contained in the July 2005 and March 2006 Indo-U.S. agreements.

The perception that the deal is now entering a ‘make or break’ zone is further strengthened by the composition of the high-level delegation that will depart for Washington on Sunday. Among the top officials accompanying National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan are Department of Atomic Energy Secretary Anil Kakodkar and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon.

According to a Reuters report from Washington on Thursday, the nuclear deal is stuck in choppy waters. The news agency quoted “a Congressional source who tracks the issue” as saying the U.S.-India negotiations “are not going well at all” with new areas of disagreement opening up. Reuters added that the same source “questioned whether the accord could be completed before Bush leaves office in January 2009”.

Though the status of the nuclear deal figured prominently in the telephone conversation the Prime Minister had with President George W. Bush on Wednesday and was mentioned by the U.S. National Security Council spokesman in Washington on Thursday, the official PMO statement curiously chose not to use the ‘N-word’ anywhere.

Earlier this week, Dr. Singh convened a special meeting of the “scientist” members of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to reiterate the Government’s position on the implementation of the nuclear deal.

Two former AEC Chairmen Homi Sethna and P.K. Iyengar were also invited to attend, though the latter was unable to go for health reasons.

According to M.R. Srinivasan — a former AEC chairman and now member of the AEC — the meeting stressed the importance of the proposed 123 agreement incorporating “upfront” and “without qualification” the right of reprocessing.

Dr. Srinivasan said that in the context of U.S. attempts to push the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) — with its idea of a handful of “supplier” nations providing fuel cycle services to the rest of the world — India had no intention of allowing multinational fuel cycle facilities or initiatives to substitute for its national reprocessing programme.

“The separation of pure plutonium from the spent fuel is crucial for our fast reactors and the move to thorium for our energy,” he said. In an attempt to allay any proliferation concerns the U.S. might have since pure plutonium can also be used for weapons purposes, India last month offered to go beyond the March 2006 separation plan by undertaking to reprocess U.S.-origin spent fuel in a facility that would be under regular rather than ‘campaign’-IAEA safeguards.

“But the Americans have not even looked at this offer,” Dr. Iyengar told The Hindu. Describing the nuclear deal as a “sinking boat,” he said the U.S. needed to realise that India was not prepared to curtail i ts sovereignty.

Dr. Srinivasan said the mini-AEC meeting also reiterated the importance of India sticking to its stand on fuel supply assurances, the absence of secondary or fallback safeguards, the insulation of India’s strategic programme from any adverse impact, and the protection of India’s research and three-stage programme.

He added that the scientists also expressed their concern at several extraneous provisions of the Hyde Act, passed by the U.S. Congress last December, which presume to dictate Indian policy in a number of areas.

7 comments on “Nuclear deal in ‘make or break’ zone

  1. Anonymous
    July 18, 2007

    I agree that the the non-proliferation agenda of the US govt. promoted by magazines such as these all that the US cares about the in the deal. The India govt. has to use this Hyde act to expose the real intenstions of US

  2. Anonymous
    July 15, 2007

    The US Govt. has three objectives in seeking this deal: (1) to develop closer military and economic ties with India, to balance rapid rise of China, (2) to further its non-proliferation agenda to be sure that they have a future say in the nuclear energy establishment of India, and (3) sell nuclear technology and services to India and also other equipment in aerospace, defense, infrastructure and telecommunications. The by-product of this is that India’s nuclear energy portion in its energy portfolio will increase, reducing reliance on fossil fuel and thereby, easing demand in world oil markets.India’s main goal is to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel and increase its nuclear nuclear energy for future economic growth.If India was perceived as important as EU or Japan or Israel (or even China), the Hyde Act itself would not have contained serious restrictions/conditions on (1) testing, (2) annual certification by the US President, (3) restriction on what India can do wrt Iran, (4) restrictions on reprocessing, and (5)IAEA/NSG related activities India needs to pursue before implementation of the Hyde Act.This Hyde act is so restrictive that it would be dead on arrival if it was presented to China, Israel, EU or Japan. The US has nuclear agreements with these countries or EU are substantially different.The letter and spirit of the Hyde Act suggests that the US is laying a trap for India to walk into its arms naively. This act itself is an insult to India’s sovereignity and speaks volumes about “poor” intentions of the USA towards India (remember the US did not support India even as non-veto permanent member of UNSC) India must walk away from the deal and tell the Americans that they must go back and change the Hyde Act itself. The Hyde act is patronizing; meddlesome in India’s foreign policy; and shows no regard for India’s security concerns and its sovereignity.It is time for India to walk away. Hyde act has effectively shown its real teeth to India and India must not delude itself that it is “being looked after” by “big brother” USA.

  3. Anonymous
    July 15, 2007

    Here we go again with Mayurdas Bholanath and his very intelligent and usual anti-US comments to bring smile on the face of Mr Varadarajan. This is the guy who once talked about ‘the brilliant route chalked out by Dr Bhabha’ forgetting that the route was made possibe only because of his stint in the US scientific labs. Indians are true to their proverbial saying that the cat thinks the entire world sleeps when it closes it eyes. Read George Perkovich’s book “India’s Nuclear Bomb”and then talk about indigeneous, sovereignty of Indian nuclear programme.

  4. Anonymous
    July 14, 2007

    I think the US-India deal is nothing but a publicity stunt for the Indian media and a fodder for training it future policy makers to write articles like these in the American media“Nuclear Friends in Need”Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia Program with the Center for Strategic and International Studies

  5. Anonymous
    July 14, 2007

    I think I agree that US is more interested ( than US-India agreement ) in GNEP as advancingits agenda of non-proliferationwhich is just a more beautiful way of saying that it wants exclusive privelages of being a fuel supplierand have monopoly over advanced technolgies . I think they just want every country to be its backoffice in perpetuity

  6. Mayurdas Bholanath
    July 14, 2007

    The offer to establish a fully safeguarded reprocessing facility in India to handle American-origin spent fuel, in my view, is retrograde and not in the long-term interests of our country.My hunch is that the Americans may not accept the proposal citing technical difficulties in estimating Plutonium contents at various stages of the reprocessing plant, with sufficient accuracy to be 100% sure that material diversion is not taking place. Similar concerns were raised at the time when Japan was setting up the Rokkasho facility. For example in < HREF="" REL="nofollow">“Can Nuclear Fuel Production In Iran And Elsewhere Be Safeguarded Against Diversion?”<> [September 28, 2005] the Author, Dr. Edwin S. Lyman says:Quote. . . . even the most fully developed and technically sophisticated safeguards system will likely fail in the context of an uncooperative or adversarial relationship between these parties (the IAEA, the State and the operator), which is exactly the situation of most interest in considering the future of IAEA safeguards as an instrument for controlling the use of nuclear energy not only in friendly states but in potentially adversarial ones. Second, issues of cost and convenience played a major role in development of the safeguards approach and resulted in many questionable compromises. For instance, instead of having its own independent on-site analytical laboratory, the IAEA must share a laboratory with the facility operator. Clearly, this situation raises additional complications, such as the potential for tampering, that must be addressed.UnquoteIt may not be too far-fetched to envisage an American counter-proposal saying “<>we<> will operate the reprocessing plant built on <>your soil<>, <>we<> will protect it from terrorists with our men, arms and ammunition . . . “, etc. This might almost be how the British East India Company established their first “trading post” in India, later to swallow the whole country.

  7. Anonymous
    July 13, 2007

    We Indians are very happy to livewith our dirty coal-fired first generation power generators (which makes the Iranians proud of their power generators) to keep our sovereignty in tact.By the way, do you have any short-time travel fund to visit any American/British/Western Universities during Indian summer? We have a serious power shortage in India during the last 20 years. This power disruption seriouly disrupts our work (such as computers, which we opposed as an instrument of capitalist exploitation in the past). We are looking for a visit to the West during the summer in India to enhance our work potential. Having said this we would like to reiterate our stance that we still hate the capitalist West!Indian Eminents

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This entry was posted on July 13, 2007 by in Nuclear Issues.



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