India-US n-trade awaits some ‘technical steps’

October 18th, 2008 - 11:20 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 18 (IANS) The historic India-US civil nuclear deal may be “done”, but the US companies eyeing a $150 billion business opportunity cannot start nuclear trade with India before a couple of more “technical steps” are completed.With the US planning to send a nuclear trade mission to India in December, Washington looks forward to completion of the required “technical steps”, Evan Feigenbaum, deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, told an Indian media round table Friday.

There are two sets of certifications that President George W. Bush has to make before the implementing 123 Agreement comes into force and the two countries can resume nuclear trade banned since India’s first “peaceful nuclear explosion” in May 1974.

Feignbaum expected the first set of presidential certifications under the US approval law to come in the next week or 10 days. These would certify: (1) that conclusion and implementation of the agreement by its terms is consistent with US obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); and (2) that it is the policy of the US to work with members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to further restrict transfers of equipment and technology related to uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

Following the certifications, India and the US will exchange diplomatic notes pursuant to Article 16(1) of the 123 Agreement, thereby bringing the agreement into force.

However, the nuclear trade can begin only after the second set of certifications under Sec 104 of the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-proliferation Enhancement Act that Bush signed into law Oct 8.

Under Sec 104 of the approval law, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission can issue licences for transfers of nuclear material and equipment only after the president determines and certifies to Congress that -

(1) The agreement between the government of India and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the application of safeguards to civilian nuclear facilities, as approved by the board of governors of the IAEA on Aug 1, 2008, has entered into force; and

(2) The government of India has filed a declaration of facilities pursuant to paragraph 13 of the safeguards agreement that is not materially inconsistent with the facilities and schedule described in paragraph 14 of the separation plan presented in the national parliament of India on May 11, 2006, taking into account the later initiation of safeguards than was anticipated in the separation plan.

Asked if all the steps would be completed before the US nuclear trade team visited India, Feigenbaum would not put a timeframe on the second set of certifications, but pointed out that nuclear trade cannot begin until India signs the safeguards agreement.

“And that’s true for nuclear trade, I believe, with anybody, not just the United States,” he added.

However, the signing of an additional protocol with respect to civilian nuclear facilities by India as provided for by the July 18, 2005 joint statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Bush is not a necessary pre-requisite.

The US would like India to sign the additional protocol, but Sec 104 of the Hyde Act requires the US president to only make a determination in his judgement that “India and the IAEA are making substantial progress toward concluding an Additional Protocol”, Feigenbaum said.

Asked how far Bush’s signing statement was binding on the next administration, he said the Congress had approved the 123 Agreement, and both Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his Democratic rival Barack Obama supported the nuclear deal, which had wide bipartisan support in both Houses.

He also wouldn’t accept the suggestion that Bush’s remarks regarding US nuclear fuel supply assurances were at variance with the submissions made by state department officials to the US Congress. Nor would he comment on the controversy regarding whether fuel assurances were “political commitments” or “legally binding”.

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