Obstacles Remain for U.S.-Indian Deal

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Obstacles Remain for U.S.-Indian Deal


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


The House in July gave its preliminary stamp of approval to the United States forging a broader civil nuclear trade relationship with India, but the arrangement remains far from finished. India is upset about measures that U.S. lawmakers have attached to the deal, and U.S. and Indian negotiators are at a standoff on some key aspects.

On July 26, the House passed, by a vote of 359-68, legislation setting conditions for the future consideration and approval of a U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, which is still being negotiated. The Senate is expected to act on similar legislation in September, and then the two chambers must merge their separate bills.

New Delhi is unhappy with the contents of both the House bill and one passed in June by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It is clear that if the final product is in its current form, India will have grave difficulties in accepting the bills," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Indian legislators Aug. 17. The Bush administration is pressing Congress to modify some of its legislative provisions that India finds nettlesome.

The overarching problem with the bills, Singh and some Indian lawmakers and scientists insist, is that their contents depart from the outlines of the deal agreed to by President George W. Bush in July 2005 and March 2006. (See ACT, September 2005; ACT, April 2006.) They charge that the U.S. side is backsliding on its commitment to "full" civil nuclear trade and impinging on India's nuclear weapons program and national sovereignty.

In exchange for Bush's commitment to clear U.S. and international restrictions on nuclear trade with India, New Delhi pledged to separate its nuclear enterprise into civilian and military sectors. Under a March split announced by the Singh government, 14 currently operating and planned thermal nuclear reactors were designated civilian, thereby subject to international oversight and eligible for foreign nuclear imports. Eight thermal reactors, two breeder reactors, and three research reactors were put out of bounds to outside inspection and trade.

Honing the Deal

The administration is backing India's opposition to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee provision that would prohibit exports of uranium-enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, and heavy-water technologies to India unless destined for facilities involved in approved bilateral or multilateral projects. These technologies can be used in civil nuclear programs, but they have direct applications to making nuclear weapons. India contends that full cooperation includes these technologies. Although U.S. policy is to deny such transfers to any country and administration officials have told Congress such items will not be exported to India, New Delhi is protesting the possibility of a statutory prohibition.

At an Aug. 2 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, National Security Council official John Rood, who has been nominated to serve as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, testified that "we would prefer to maintain this practice as a matter of policy as opposed to a matter of law."

The Bush administration is also objecting to a Senate provision mandating new end-use monitoring measures to ensure that U.S. nuclear exports to India are not diverted to unintended destinations or uses. Claiming that the administration would prefer to rely on existing mechanisms instead of instituting special ones for India, Rood argued that India "sees the creation of the end-use verification procedures as implying a lack of trust."

Some in Congress say that is exactly the point. "India is no stranger to violating international nuclear commitments," Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) argued July 26. In 1974, India conducted its first nuclear test with the help of Canadian and U.S. nuclear imports designated for peaceful purposes.

Singh criticized any measures to assess or judge Indian nuclear behavior. …

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