‘US to halt nuclear trade if India conducts test’

September 3rd, 2008 - 10:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 3 (IANS) Even as the Bush administration pushes the nuclear suppliers to give India a clean waiver, it has told the US Congress that it would immediately terminate nuclear trade with New Delhi if it conducted a nuclear test.The assurance to halt nuclear trade and stop selling sensitive nuclear technologies to India is held out in correspondence released Wednesday by Howard L. Berman, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The release of correspondence, which has remained secret for nine months at the request of the State Department adds another twister to the two-day crucial meeting of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in Vienna beginning Thursday to consider a revised US draft to give India an exemption from restrictions on nuclear trade.

The correspondence concerned 45 highly technical questions that members of Congress posed about the landmark India-US civil nuclear deal. It sought to address some lawmakers’ concerns whether the implementing 123 agreement papered over critical conditions imposed by the enabling US law, the contentious Hyde Act.

The questions were addressed in a 26-page letter sent Jan 16 to Berman’s predecessor, the late Tom Lantos, who had played a crucial role in the passage of the Hyde Act in December 2006.

The answers were considered so sensitive, particularly because debate over the agreement in India could have toppled the coalition government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that the State Department requested they remain secret even though they were not classified.

Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for Berman, said he had made the answers public Tuesday because, if the NSG approval is granted, the US-India deal soon would be submitted to Congress for final approval and “he wants to assure that Congress has the relevant information”.

The State Department’s letter to Lantos says the US would help India deal only with “disruptions in supply to India that may result through no fault of its own”, such as a trade war or market disruptions.

“The fuel supply assurances are not, however, meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test or a violation of non-proliferation commitments,” it said.

The letter makes clear that terminating cooperation could be immediate and was within US discretion, and that the supply assurances made by the US are not legally binding but simply a commitment made by President George Bush.

The letter also stated that the “US government will not assist India in the design, construction or operation of sensitive nuclear technologies”, even though the Hyde Act allowed transfers of such technology under certain circumstances.

The US government had no plans to seek to amend the deal to allow sensitive transfers, it said.

Reflecting the importance of the US-India deal to Bush’s foreign policy legacy, Washington is dispatching two top officials - William J. Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and John Rood, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security - to the Sep 4-5 NSG session in Vienna.

At least six NSG members - Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland - are reported to be opposed to a “clean waiver” for India as they fear it will impact adversely on the non-proliferation regime.

The correspondence released by Berman is “going to reinforce the views of many states”, said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which opposes the US-India agreement. “There is no reason why this should not be an NSG-wide policy.”

The administration is eager for the mandatory NSG green signal this week because there is a narrow window for final congressional approval before lawmakers adjourn Sep 22 after a brief two-week session.

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