Arun Shouries Articles

Now let the PM square this circle | May 28, 2008

Arun Shourie: Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What had the prime minister drawn as the contours beyond which India would not budge on the Indo-US nuclear deal? Do the provisions of the bill as finally passed by the Senate fall within those contours? If they do not, how can the country now be made to swallow the deal?

The prime minister’s website records some of the responses he gave to the nuclear scientists when he met them after his statement of 17 August, 2006 in the Rajya Sabha. Asked about what India’s response would be if the US Congress passed the bills as they had emerged from the House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dr Singh said: “I had taken up with President Bush our concerns regarding provisions in the two bills. It is clear that if the final product is in its current form, India will have grave difficulties in accepting the bills. US has been left in no doubt as to our position…In their final form, if US legislation or the NSG guidelines impose extraneous conditions on India, the government will draw the necessary conclusions consistent with my commitments to Parliament.”

Dr Manmohan Singh had earlier told the Rajya Sabha itself, “We have concerns over both the House and Senate versions of the bill.” He had recalled the 18 July, 2005 Joint Statement and the Separation Plan that government had announced in March 2006, and added, “What we can agree with the United States to enable nuclear cooperation must be strictly within these parameters.”

The bill as it has been passed by the Senate is not just what it was then, and in accepting which the prime minister had said India “will have grave difficulties,” it now has provisions which, as we shall see, put it even farther outside the lakshman rekhas that Dr Manmohan Singh had drawn in the Rajya Sabha. But, lo and behold, the bill is being projected as a great breakthrough for the nuclear deal, indeed for India. The fact that the vote in the Senate was overwhelmingly in its favour, is being projected as a triumph of Indian diplomacy!

What had the prime minister spelled out as the contours beyond which India would not budge? Do the provisions of the bill as finally passed by the Senate fall within those contours? If they do not, how can the country now be made to swallow the deal?

Our foreign policy’s independence

To begin with, the prime minister told the Rajya Sabha: “I would, hence, again reiterate in view of the apprehensions expressed, that the proposed US legislation on nuclear cooperation with India will not be allowed to become an instrument to compromise India’s sovereignty. Our foreign policy is determined solely by our national interests. No legislation enacted in a foreign country can take away from us that sovereign right. Thus there is no question of India being bound by a law passed by a foreign legislature. Our sole guiding principle in regard to our foreign policy, whether it is on Iran or any other country, will be dictated entirely by our national interest.”

He returned to this issue in his response to questions that were raised after he had spoken. He again said:

“Government is clear that our commitments are only those that are contained in the July Joint Statement and in the Separation Plan. We cannot accept introduction of extraneous issues on foreign policy. Any prescriptive suggestions in this regard are not acceptable to us.”

Asked a third time about the reference in the bills to Iran, he said yet again:

“We reject the linkage of any extraneous issue to the nuclear understanding. India’s foreign policy will be decided on the basis of Indian national interests only.”

Well, the bill as passed by the Senate requires, as a condition for the waiver authority to become effective, the president to certify that “India is fully and actively participating in United States and international efforts to dissuade, sanction, and contain Iran for its nuclear program consistent with United Nations Resolutions.”

Nor has this clause been included inadvertently. Even during the hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a senator had closely questioned officials of the US government about a newspaper report that India was giving training to Iranian naval personnel, and had refused to believe their explanations that the ships in question had only made a port-call at Kochi. During the full debate on amendments, Senator Harkin, who introduced the Iran amendment, pointed at length to the fact that, while India had twice voted with the US in the IAEA, it had tried to keep Iran out of the reach of the Security Council and thus beyond the reach of sanctions. He drew attention to the resolution which India had joined in passing at the meeting of Non-Aligned Countries in Havana. He pointed to the “robust relationship” of India with Iran. He recalled that recently sanctions had to be imposed on two Indian firms for exporting chemicals to Iran which could be used for chemical weapons, and that the Indian External Affairs spokesman had claimed that the exports were “not in violation of our regulations or our international obligations.” “This is deeply disturbing,” the senator told his colleagues. “What this means is that India’s current export control laws are inadequate and do not meet the same high standards of US export laws.” He said, “India actively engages in military-to-military cooperation with Iran…” He told his Senate colleagues, “The ties between India and Iran are troubling.” “That is why I believe we must — through my amendment — require the president to provide a determination that India is actively supporting efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program before he can waive existing restrictions on civil nuclear commerce with India.”

It was after all this that the Senate inserted the clause into the bill.

Now, it can be argued, and the prime minister has stated this on occasion in the context of Iran, that it is not in India’s national interest that there should be another state in the region that has nuclear weapons. Moreover, he has pointed out that, being a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran must abide by the international obligations it has undertaken. The point is different. When what we must do on a matter as grave as this is made part of the law of the US and an agreement that we sign with it, our hands get tied. Tomorrow, the US changes its mind, we must, adhering to our international commitments no less, also change our mind! Yesterday, arming, financing the Taliban was good — to defeat the USSR; we would have had to believe it to be good. Today, Taliban are a scourge; we must believe that too, and act accordingly.

‘Full’ means ‘less than full’

Next, the prime minister placed great emphasis on the fact that the nuclear cooperation from the side of the US must be “full”. That is what the 18 July, 2005 Joint Statement had pledged, he pointed out. Nothing less would be acceptable. It is necessary to read his precise words:

“Let me now turn to some of the concerns that have been expressed on the second set of issues regarding possible deviations from assurances given by me in this august House on the July 18, 2005 Joint Statement and the March 2, 2006 Separation Plan. I would like to state categorically that there have neither been nor will there be any compromises on this score and the government will not allow such compromises to occur in the future.”

Recalling what had been stated in the Joint Statement and the Separation Plan, he emphasised, “This Separation Plan had identified the nuclear facilities that India was willing to offer, in a phased manner, for IAEA safeguards, contingent on reciprocal actions taken by the United States. For its part, the US administration was required to approach the Congress for amending its laws and the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group for adapting its guidelines to enable full civilian nuclear cooperation between India and the international community.”

Not to leave any doubt about what “full” meant, the prime minister reiterated: “The central imperative in our discussions with the United State on Civil Nuclear Cooperation is to ensure the complete and irreversible removal of existing restrictions imposed on India through iniquitous restrictive trading regimes over the years. We seek the removal of restrictions on all aspects of cooperation and technology transfers pertaining to civil nuclear energy — ranging from nuclear fuel, nuclear reactors, to re-processing spent fuel, i.e. all aspects of a complete nuclear fuel cycle.”

“… We will not agree to any dilution that would prevent us from securing the benefits of full civil nuclear cooperation as amplified above.”

And a third time: “We seek the removal of restrictions on all aspects of cooperation and technology transfers pertaining to civil nuclear energy — ranging from supply of nuclear fuel, nuclear reactors, reprocessing spent fuel, i.e., all aspects of complete nuclear fuel supply. Only such cooperation would be in keeping with the July Joint Statement.”

But Section 106 of the bill as passed by the Senate expressly prohibits “export or re-export to India of any equipment, materials, or technology related to enrichment of uranium, the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, or the production of heavy water.”

Nor is this accidental. Article 1 of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty binds the US not to directly or indirectly assist any non-nuclear weapon state to acquire or manufacture nuclear weapons. All the three items listed in Section 106 are useful for producing nuclear weapons. Its existing laws also explicitly prohibit the US from allowing the export of any technology relating to these aspects. Officials of the US administration state that they have made this plain to Indian negotiators time and again.

Both in the report of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and during the debate in the full Senate, members drew attention to the fact that non-proliferation of nuclear weapons remains a key objective of US policy, and of this agreement with India too. They pointed out that enriched uranium, reprocessed spent nuclear fuel and heavy water are used for production of nuclear weapons. They recalled that in an important address to the National Defence University in February 2004, President Bush had spoken of the loophole in Article IV of the NPT that “enables non-nuclear weapon states to acquire all forms of nuclear technology, including sensitive uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities, as long as they are under IAEA safeguards and are used exclusively for peaceful purposes.” In particular,

President Bush called on the Nuclear Suppliers Group to “tighten its export control guidelines by prohibiting the export of enrichment and reprocessing technology and equipment to countries that do not already operate enrichment and reprocessing plants.” In fact, the president had gone further and urged the Nuclear Suppliers Group to also ban such transfers: “The 40 nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group,” he had said, “should refuse to sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technologies to any state that does not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants.” He had also noted that “enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Condoleezza Rice and the under secretary who has been negotiating this deal with our officials, Nicholas Burns, both testified before the Senate Committee that the US would not allow transfer of equipment, materials or technologies for any of the three purposes. They told the Senate Committee that they had already informed the Nuclear Suppliers Group that the US would not allow such transfers to take place. Accordingly, while testifying before the Senate Committee, the Under Secretaries, Burns and Joseph, stated that “full civil nuclear cooperation will not include enrichment or reprocessing technology.” And, furthermore, that the administration was not contemplating any transfers of these relating to production of heavy water either. During the debate, the sponsors of the bill, like Senator Biden, themselves recalled these statements of the president and other officials of the administration. They said that such prohibition was necessary in view of US laws; in view of US obligations under Article I of the NPT; and in view of the fact that one of the principal objectives of the US remains the limitation of military uses of nuclear energy. As one of the co-sponsors of the bill, Senator Biden, told the Senate, Section 106 is designed to legally prohibit such transfers because “these technologies are all used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. In fact, the administration already has a worldwide policy of not exporting these technologies.” “Some Indian officials are reportedly upset because section 106 singles out India,” he continued. “But they have long known that it is US policy not to sell them these technologies, so this is a matter more of pride than of substance, which I hope they deal with.”

I am sure the senator must not have had our prime minister in mind — for the latter is known the world over for being free of pride!

The senators said that they were deliberately making the prohibition tighter than IAEA safeguards: the latter prohibit the transfer only of nuclear materials; the bill they were sponsoring prohibited not just materials but, in addition, technologies that may help in any of the three spheres.

Nor does the bill just prohibit the US from transferring materials, equipment and technologies that may assist in enriching uranium, reprocessing spent fuel or in production of heavy water. Section 103(7) of the Senate Bill imposes a further duty on the president. It lays down: “Given the special sensitivity of equipment and technologies related to the enrichment of uranium, the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, and the production of heavy water, to work with members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, individually and collectively, to further restrict the transfers of such equipment and technologies, including to India.”

In view of the categorical pledge of the prime minister that “We will not agree to any dilution…” in this regard, that “Only such cooperation would be in keeping with the July Joint Statement” as encompasses all aspects of the fuel cycle “ranging from supply of nuclear fuel, nuclear reactors, reprocessing spent fuel,” etc., by what rationalisations will the government now accept the deal?

(To be continued)

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