Indo-US n-deal critics seek shift in Washington policy

February 15th, 2008 - 12:08 pm ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, Feb 15 (IANS) Opponents of the India-US civil nuclear deal have turned a top official’s assurance that it would be consistent with US law into an argument for a shift in policy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had Wednesday assured a House panel that the US would support an agreement between India and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that controls global nuclear trade only if it is “consistent” with the Hyde Act, the US enabling law.

If the Bush administration did not adhere to the Hyde Act, US lawmakers will eventually refuse to endorse the landmark agreement if and when it comes up in the Congress, she told the House foreign affairs committee.

“We’ll have to be consistent with the Hyde Act or I don’t believe we can count on the Congress to make the next step,” Rice said in response to a query from the Democratic Chairman of the panel, Howard Berman.

While the Hyde Act allows the export of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, reversing the sanctions imposed after India’s 1998 nuclear tests, it does not suspend the requirement to stop exports in case India tests again.

That has proved a bone of contention with the nuclear deal’s leftist opponents in India taking it as an attack on India’s sovereignty even as both New Delhi and Washington contend that the 123 agreement finalised last July supersedes the Hyde Act.

Essentially US concessions to India under 123 agreement cover three points: the right to terminate the deal if India conducts a nuclear test; the reprocessing of spent fuel produced from US-origin nuclear fuel; and assurances of the supply of nuclear fuel to India in the event that India suffers a disruption in supply.

Leading US experts generally agree that there is nothing in the 123 agreement that’s a clear violation of Hyde Act, but suggest that it would be for the US Congress to study the pact closely to see whether it is consistent with the US legislation as contended by the Bush administration.

However, Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association (ACA), a leading critic of the nuclear deal, suggested that Rice’s “pledge” to make global rules on nuclear trade with India “consistent” with US law requires shift in US policy.

“Rice’s pledge to support NSG guidelines that are consistent with the minimal but vital conditions established for US nuclear trade with India requires a shift in the Bush administration’s policy,” he said. “Such a shift would be an overdue step in the right direction.”

The Hyde Act would grant the US president limited and conditional authority to waive the longstanding US legal restrictions on nuclear trade with India, which has tested nuclear weapons, has not joined the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), and does not allow comprehensive international nuclear safeguards, Kimball said.

“At present, India is seeking an NSG exemption without conditions. The current draft US proposal at the NSG supports India’s demand and, if adopted, would mean that other NSG states do not have to adhere to the same restrictions and conditions on nuclear trade with India that apply to the United States,” he said.

“We expect that Secretary Rice will remain faithful to her pledge to Congress and adjust the US approach at the NSG so that other states’ terms of trade with India must meet the same standards established in US law and policy,” Kimball said.

The NSG was established in response to India’s 1974 nuclear test explosion, which utilised plutonium harvested from a foreign-supplied reactor in violation of peaceful nuclear use agreements with the US and Canada, he alleged.

“In response to Rice’s comments, we expect the member states of the NSG to insist that any decision to modify their rules on nuclear trade with India should explicitly prohibit the transfer of sensitive uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, or heavy water production equipment or technology.”

NSG states should also stipulate that any exemption from NSG trade guidelines that might be granted to India would be revoked if that nation resumes nuclear testing,” Kimball suggested.

Kimball and other critics of the deal have called on Congress to support a resolution (introduced in October by Berman and Republican members Jeff Fortenberry and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) that calls on the president only to pursue changes to NSG guidelines that are consistent with the restrictions and conditions established in the Hyde Act.

New Delhi is currently negotiating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) an “India-specific” safeguards agreement covering several additional power reactors that India has agreed to classify as “civilian”.

India and the US would then ask the 45-member NSG to exempt India from longstanding NSG guidelines that require comprehensive IAEA safeguards as a condition of nuclear supply.

Once the two agreements are in place the 123 accord goes for final approval before the US Congress, which must approve or reject it in an up or down vote within 90 days.

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