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Commentary

Update on the US-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement

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In response to harsh domestic criticism, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivered a speech to the upper house of the Indian Parliament on August 17th defending the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement.  A transcript of the Prime Minister’s statement can be found at http://www.hindu.com/nic/indousdeal.htm

 
This extremely important statement has received scant attention in the United States. The Indian Prime Minister’s prepared remarks included the following significant claims:
 
1) On nuclear testing, the Prime Minister asserted that “there is no question of India being bound by a law passed by a foreign legislature.” 
 
2) On the requirement under US Public Law to cease nuclear commerce with India in the event that India resumes testing nuclear weapons, the Prime Minister declared that this provision “is not acceptable” to India. 
 
3) On fuel supply assurances, the Prime Minister reaffirmed his view that the Bush administration has committed itself to an “uninterrupted supply of fuel” as well as to “India’s right to build up strategic reserves of nuclear fuel over the lifetime of India’s reactors.”  An interruption of fuel supply is called for under current Public Law in the event that India would resume testing nuclear weapons.
 
4) On “full” civil nuclear cooperation, the Prime Minister stated that India seeks the “removal of restrictions on all aspects of cooperation and technology transfers pertaining to civil nuclear energy ranging from nuclear fuel, nuclear reactors, to re-processing spent fuel.”  He then went on to say that, “We will not agree to any dilution that would prevent us from securing the benefits of full civil nuclear cooperation as amplified above.” 
 
5) On safeguards, the Prime Minister stated that, “we will accept only IAEA safeguards on the nuclear facilities, in a phased manner… only when all nuclear restrictions on India have been lifted.”
 
6) On the Senate Bill’s provision calling for an annual presidential certification that India is in full compliance with its non-proliferation and other commitments, the Prime Minister stated that India opposes this provision because it would have the effect “to diminish a permanent waiver authority into an annual one.”  Because this language “would introduce an element of uncertainty regarding future cooperation,” the Prime Minister stated that this provision, if maintained in the final Bill, would be “unacceptable.”   
 
7) On provisions relating to Iran and nonproliferation, the Prime Minister stated that, “We cannot accept introduction of extraneous issues on foreign policy.  Any prescriptive suggestions in this regard are not acceptable to us.”
 
The Prime Minister’s cryptic bottom line is as follows: “If in their final form the US legislation or the adapted NSG guidelines impose extraneous conditions on India, the Government will draw the necessary conclusions, consistent with the commitments I have made to Parliament.”

The strenuous opposition within India to the proposed US-India nuclear cooperation agreement is perplexing to those who have concluded that the US Congress and the Bush administration have been extraordinarily generous to India. The extent of Washington’s generosity has now been called into question by New Delhi. 

The Bush administration has advised Congress that it would not provide India with reprocessing technologies and that it would not give India a free pass if it were to resume nuclear testing. Otherwise, this deal could do irreparable harm to the Nonproliferation Treaty. 

The Prime Minister of India may have a different understanding on these matters based on what the administration has promised in private.  Alternatively, he may be seeking additional sweeteners from Washington to mollify domestic critics.  Either way, these matters require clarification on Capitol Hill. 

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