Avoiding One Pitfall in US-India Relations

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By Michael Krepon and Sam Black – The L’Aquila Statement on Non-Proliferation, released at the end of the G-8 Summit in Italy, received little notice — except in India. Some in New Delhi took exception to one paragraph of the communiqué that called on the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to make further progress “on mechanisms to strengthen controls on transfers” of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies.

The Government of India has argued that the civil nuclear cooperation agreement negotiated with the Bush administration and its subsequent endorsement by the NSG permits such transfers to India. As long as the transferred enrichment and reprocessing equipment is solely dedicated to peaceful uses, New Delhi argues, it should be provided along with nuclear power reactors and fuel deliveries.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has further enhanced bilateral cooperation with her visit to India. Itwould therefore be unfortunate if ENR transfersbecome a source of contention between Washington and New Delhi. The public record of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and India is quite clear that the transfer of ENR technologies was not part of the deal endorsed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush.

The “Hyde Act,” in which the House and Senate agreed to waive certain restrictions on nuclear commerce with India, restricted “exports, re-exports, transfers, and re-transfers to India related to enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water production.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice affirmed these restrictions “without any qualifications or reservations.” President Bush’s transmittal letter to Congress of the 123 (Implementation) Agreement for the US–India civil nuclear cooperation agreement specifically states that, “Sensitive nuclear technology, heavy water production technology and production facilities, sensitive nuclear facilities, and major critical components of such facilities may not be transmitted under the Agreement unless the Agreement is amended.”

The Obama administration is not departing from the Bush administration’s position on ENR; nor did the recent G-8 statement break new ground on this subject. The 2004 G-8 Summit communiqué stated that enhanced International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of all national nuclear facilities must be a precondition of ENR transfers: “The Additional Protocol must become an essential new standard in the field of nuclear supply arrangements. We will work to strengthen NSG guidelines accordingly.”

The reasons for such a clear and consistent U.S. policy toward ENR transfers are compelling, and have become even more so with developments in Iran and North Korea.

India is a responsible nation possessing advanced nuclear technologies. Iran and North Korea, in stark contrast, have violated numerous Security Council resolutions regarding their nuclear programs, including those related to enrichment and reprocessing. Success in dealing with North Korea and Iran requires, inter alia, strengthened global norms against transferring ENR technologies. Global norms matter because they increase leverage against bad actors. Global norms are weakened when the United States or any other nuclear supplier seeks permissive rules for friends.

Moreover, the pursuit of ENR technologies by India comes at an awkward time. India is one of a handful of countries that has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and one of a very small number of states that is increasing its stocks of bomb-making material and growing its nuclear arsenal.

India has the sovereign right to test more nuclear weapons, produce more bomb-making fissile material and build up its stockpile of nuclear weapons. The United States and members of the NSG have a sovereign right and national security obligations notto transferparticularly sensitive nuclear technologies.

The US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement contained a provision that would permit the reprocessing of fuel provided under this agreement as long as such reprocessing were carried out in a”new national reprocessing facility dedicated to reprocessing safeguarded nuclear material under IAEA safeguards.”The United States would not transferto India ENR facilities for this purpose, nor would the United Statesseek toloosen the NSG’srules against such sales by other nuclear suppliers.

The Obama administration is unlikely to reverse the Bush administration’s policy on this issue. New Delhi can push on many open doors for improved cooperation and trade with the United States. Why push on one that isn’t open?

photo credit: Petr Pavlicek/IAEA (

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