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India-US Nuclear Deal – Historic Or Hollow?

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI – Should the India-United States agreement “concerning peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” unveiled last week (August 3) be viewed as “historic” or as “an “attack on nuclear sovereignty and foreign policy options” of India?

The agreement based on “understandings” expressed in India-US joint statement of July 18, 2005 “to enable full nuclear energy cooperation with India covering aspects of the associated nuclear fuel cycle,” begins with highlighting its need. For “meeting growing global energy demands,” the agreement is to “cooperate extensively in full development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes as a means of achieving energy security, on a stable, reliable and predictable basis.” This “cooperation” is to be developed “on the basis of mutual respect for sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit, reciprocity and with due respect for each other’s nuclear programs.” The text highlights the need to “establish the necessary legal framework and basis” for “peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” It is affirmed that “cooperation under this agreement” is between two States “possessing advanced nuclear technology, both Parties having the same benefits and advantages, both committed to preventing the WMD (weapons of mass destruction) proliferation.”

The agreement affirms the two countries’ “support for objectives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its safeguards system, as applicable to India and the United States of America.” In addition to referring to “their respective commitments to safety and security of peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” “protecting environment,” “preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” the text states their being “desirous of strengthening the strategic partnership between them.”

The 22-page text, divided into 17 articles, states that agreement shall be (article 2) “implemented in a manner so as not to hinder or otherwise interfere with any other activities involving the use of nuclear material, non-nuclear material, equipment, components, information or technology and military nuclear facilities produced, acquired or developed by them independent of this agreement for their own purposes.”

The agreement, according to article 16, shall enter into force from the day two parties “exchange diplomatic notes informing each other that they have completed all applicable requirements for its entry into force.” In addition to 40-year period, the agreement is extendable by 10 years. The conditions to be met before this agreement becomes operational include its approval by United States Congress, International Atomic Energy Agency and Nuclear Suppliers Group. The US, according to article 5, “is committed to seeking agreement from US Congress to amend its domestic laws and to work with friends and allies to adjust practices of Nuclear Suppliers Group to create necessary conditions for India to obtain full access to international fuel market.”

The agreement can terminate earlier with a written notice of a year, which can also be withdrawn before the year is over, according to article 14. Prior to terminating it, the two countries “shall consider relevant circumstances and promptly hold consultations” to “address reasons cited by party (country) seeking termination.” If cooperation ceases, “either party shall have the right to require the return by the other party of any nuclear material, equipment, non-nuclear material or components transferred under this agreement and any special fissionable material produced through their use.”

“The two parties recognize that exercising the right of return would have profound implications for their relations,” according to article 14. It cannot be missed that continuance of the deal, in keeping with the agreement’s text, refers to development of a “strategic partnership” between the India and US. Discontinuance of the same, as suggested by this article, would have “profound” (apparently negative) impact on their ties. In other words, once the deal becomes operational, if India or US were ever to turn their backs to it, it would also signal a major change in their diplomatic attitude towards each other. Unless India wishes to risk its friendship with US, once the deal comes through, it would apparently have little choice but to adhere strictly to the very text of the agreement.

While the Congress, the party heading the United Progressive Alliance ruling combine, has welcomed the nuclear deal, describing it as a “historic agreement,” the leading opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has rejected it. In the national and public interest, “India has extracted the best possible deal,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said. A day later (August 4), BJP described the agreement as an “attack” on India’s “nuclear sovereignty and foreign policy options.” Demanding setting up of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to examine the deal, the BJP asked the government to suspend all further action on it till JPC submits its report and secures approval of the Parliament. The BJP also demanded “appropriate amendments” to the Constitution and laws to ensure ratification by the Parliament of all agreements which affect country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security.

Expressing that these were preliminary comments, senior BJP leaders, Yashwant Singh and Arun Shourie said that party would study the agreement in detail. Though the agreement does not mention nuclear testing, it refers to application of national law, which include the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, provisions of the Hyde Act and the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, Singh said. “All these, along with intrusive provisions of the Hyde Act are bound to have a stultifying effect on our strategic nuclear program,” Singh pointed out.

Dismissing the BJP comments as “hypocrisy of the worst kind,” Congress spokesman Singhvi said: “It is irresponsible to say so. We know that the BJP was desperate to have an agreement half as good as this. It also shows they are unconcerned about national interests.”

Reserving their comments, Left bloc leaders said that they would hold another round of discussions with government after studying the agreement. “The text has just been released. We will say not anything before studying it thoroughly,” Prakash Karat (General Secretary, Communist Party of India-Marxist) said.

“It is a profound subject. We will analyze the text and come out with a considered response in a couple of days,” said D. Raja national secretary of India’s Communist Party.

Describing the agreement as “hollow,” former Prime Minister V.P. Singh rejected it as a “charter for dependence on the US” (August 5). Rather than go for the deal, he said: “We can instead import coal which can be done without any conditionalities and set up thermal power plants along the coastline.”

While most atomic scientists have welcomed it as a “balanced document,” M.R. Srinivasan, former chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, is not fully satisfied. “As part of Full Nuclear cooperation, we expected enrichment technology, reprocessing and heavy water technology would also be part of the 123 agreement and which was possible but in draft it is mentioned that it would be only part of the future agreement,” he said. “This is less than what we expected, but I think we have to live with it.”

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court declined to entertain a petition (August 3) seeking directions to government to place all details of Indo-US nuclear deal before Parliament for approval and to declare joint Indo-US statement on nuclear deal as null and void, if not approved by Parliament. Describing it as a serious issue, the bench observed: “Courts cannot direct Parliament either to discuss a treaty or have it placed before Parliament. It is for constitutional authorities like Prime Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker to decide.”

Against this backdrop, the month-long monsoon session of the Parliament, beginning on August 10, is expected to be stormy with opposition members voicing their stand against the deal!


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