Journalist | Writer | Analyst
3 August 2008
Kakodkar: India is firm on unconditional waiver
Vienna: Describing the “clean and unconditional exemption” India wants from the Nuclear Suppliers Group as being of “crucial importance” to the successful implementation of the India-U.S. nuclear agreement, Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar said on Saturday that the inclusion of conditions “would literally take away with one hand what has been given with the other.”
In an exclusive interview to The Hindu the morning after the International Atomic Energy Agency approved India’s safeguards agreement, Dr. Kakodkar also spelt out, for the first time, the conceptual difference between the Indian and American approaches to the NSG issue.
The suppliers group was a cartel that had rules for the sale of nuclear material to non-nuclear weapon states and its guidelines were therefore riddled with extraneous conditions which had no relevance to India, he said. “The NSG guidelines apply to non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS). So our preference is for the NSG to simply say that these guidelines do not apply to India. If they are unwilling to say that, at a minimum, the requirement of full-scope safeguards and other prescriptive elements in the guidelines that are intended for NNWS must be waived for India.”
Describing the NSG guidelines as a “weave meant for non-nuclear weapon states,” Dr. Kakodkar said there were “references and requirements here and there” and India had to be careful that “such conditions do not come in even indirectly.” “If you read the NSG guidelines as a whole, right at the top, it says these prescriptions are for non-nuclear weapon states. There is an enunciation of the requirement that countries must accept full-scope safeguards. There is language about what happens if one of these states tests, there is restrictive language on enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) equipment, and so on.”
Asked about the sort of conditions India was being asked to accept, the AEC Chairman said the U.S. had still not given India its proposals. “Of course, we are very clear that there cannot be any linkage with nuclear tests,” he said. India was committed to its voluntary moratorium “but just as in the 123 agreement with the U.S., there cannot be any explicit linkage to nuclear testing as a condition in the NSG,” he added. Nor should there be any advice or suggestion that India must join the NPT or accept the conditions that non-nuclear weapon states are subject to. The NSG had to realise India cannot be treated as an NNWS. “I am not interested in labels like the NPT definition of a nuclear weapon state because we are what we are,” said Dr. Kakodkar. “But certainly we don’t want the other label to be attached to us either.”
India, Dr. Kakodkar stressed, “should be treated as it is.” After all, it has concluded agreements on nuclear commerce with Russia and France, and even with the U.S. “Are any of these elements present in those agreements? So our view is that all these things in the NSG are extraneous. Tomorrow, if the political situation changes, all these things can create difficulties.”
In the very first draft of proposed changes to the NSG guidelines circulated in March 2006, the U.S. inserted a line that NSG members would “continue to strive for the earliest possible implementation” of full-scope safeguards on Indian nuclear facilities.” That draft, said Dr. Kakodkar, “has been thrown out. It no longer exists.” But he expressed concern about the delay in the final framing of the proposed guideline changes. “We don’t want a situation where there is some kind of fait accompli and we don’t have time to examine things.”
Because of India’s bitter experiences in the past, its current approach towards nuclear cooperation was to build in “a high degree of redundancy” especially in terms of ensuring the continuity of reactor operations and assured fuel supply, said Dr. Kakodkar.
“We have to have tie-ups with A, B, C, D and E. But the NSG is a cartel, so all countries could get together and the redundancy we are seeking to build could get reduced to a knot in one stroke,” he added.
“Our aim is for the redundancy to remain protected. This is the main thing we have to achieve. That is what is behind the slogan of a clean and unconditional exemption. And I am firm and committed that we must get this.”
Asked whether India would walk away if the NSG failed to provide a clean and unconditional waiver, Dr. Kakodkar said, “Why not?” He described the India-specific safeguards agreement (ISSA) as something that would remain a useful achievement.
“We have six reactors that are already under separate safeguards. All of them can be subsumed under the ISSA. And as and when someone wants to cooperate with us, everything else can be brought into this as well. The NSG guidelines are there for the suppliers but if someone wants to trade with India, the ISSA is useful.” The safeguards agreement creates a “distinctive class for India,” he said, because it is the “first multilateral instrument that recognises there is a nuclear programme in the country which remains outside the civil programme.”
“So I believe the ISSA is useful by itself, though our intention is not to remain there but to go beyond and start cooperation.”
Asked about the concerns that have been expressed within India about the intentions of the United States and other countries, Dr. Kakodkar said, “If you want to go to a new equilibrium, you have to be in troubled waters first. In a frozen situation, you cannot make change.”
Regardless of the intentions of other countries “and there is no reason to assume those intentions are benign, i.e. that they are just looking for business opportunities,” he said, India would have to steer itself carefully in order to be able to reposition itself in the emerging global system. “What is needed is courage and determination to see this through.”
Time was of the essence, he said, because the renaissance of nuclear power worldwide had increased commercial interest and raised security concerns too. “There will be a readjustment worldwide and our position is quite strong. If we stick to our terms, it should work.”
[In the print edition of The Hindu, this story was split into two. I have combined the two parts here but the url of the second part can be found here.]