Friday, December 08, 2006


Congress dilutes clauses for India in final nuclear bill

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Washington/ New York, December 8, 2006

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The final version of the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation bill was approved by a joint committee of the US Congress on Thursday afternoon.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are scheduled to vote for the bill on Friday morning. Diplomatic and congressional sources say they have no doubt the bill will pass unanimously in both houses.

President George W Bush is planning an official ceremony to sign the bill into law next week.

At the heart of the bill lies a green signal for the US to provide nuclear technology and material to India's civilian nuclear programme without requiring India to fulfill Section 123(a)2 of the US Atomic Energy Act.

This clause had meant that nuclear cooperation would be acceptable only if India put all its nuclear facilities under inspection—in other words gave up its nuclear weapons arsenal. The US Congress explicitly accepts that New Delhi can have its nuclear cake and eat it too in the bill's explanatory notes: "the conferees understand that US peaceful nuclear cooperation with India will not be intended to inhibit India's nuclear weapons program."

The real juggling was in the US Congress's desire, as the notes add, to ensure the bill did not "assist" in India's nuclear weapons development. Another bit of balancing was to carve a place within the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime for India without leaving a hole through which future Irans and North Koreas could crawl through.

Most clauses and amendments that India had protested against have been diluted or placed in the non-binding sections of the legislation.

This includes the earlier clauses outlining end-use monitoring and various "presidential certifications" which New Delhi feared would hold the nuclear deal hostage to annual political battles.

The certificates were demoted to reports. Explains Lisa Curtis, South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, "A presidential determination is binding whereas a reporting requirement is merely a report by the administration to the Congress. There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of reporting requirements included in US legislation."

The so-called Sherman amendment which declared nuclear cooperation should be suspended with New Delhi if any Indian violated global missile and nuclear nonproliferation agreements, survives partly in Section 104(d) of the bill. But following Indian protests, it waives the sanctions if it is clear the Indian government was not behind such malpractices.

The deal's skeptics in India will complain that the US has not given the sort of access to reprocessing, enrichment and heavy water technology that had been hoped for. Section 103 urges the US to work with other Nuclear Suppliers Group members to "further restrict of such equipment and technologies". However, a loophole is left by saying such technology could flow in the case of certain IAEA-approved research.

Says political scientist Sumit Ganguly of the University of Indiana, Bloomington, "This section should come as no surprise. It would be all but impossible for the US to have granted carte blance in this matter." The US does not share such knowhow with any country in the world.

The bill also leaves no wiggle room if India carries out a nuclear test. The standard US policy that cooperation will be broken off with any country that tests remains largely unchanged. Finally, it whittles down US offers to help India build up a "strategic fissile material reserve" and says Washington should only step into help India find nuclear fuel if there is a "market failure or other such reason."

It is clear dilution rather than excision has been the congressional response to Indian demands.

One strong opponent of the deal, Michael Krepon of the Stimson Centre, believes the bill indicates that Congress was able to resist "pressure from the Bush administration."

Swadesh Chatterjee, one of the key Indian-American lobbyists, argues the final bill is "better than both the original House and Senate draft bills." New Delhi got almost everything that it wanted. "Not even the Israeli lobby can get 100 per cent of what it wants, and India got 95 per cent," he said. Lisa Curtis agrees, noting the US failed to get India to a fissile material cap, a key demand from many western quarters.

Strategic experts in India like K Subramanyam argued that critics of the deal fail to understand that US nuclear cooperation is not the major issue. The real issue is that without the US legislation, the other 51 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group will be prepared to end India's years of nuclear discrimination. If India does not like US demands, he wrote recently, it should buy its reactors and material from France or Russia.

"This is the strategy that China has adopted." However even this cannot be possible until the US legislation provides the escape hatch from the NPT regime.
There has been general agreement that the bill is a major turning point in Indo-US relations. William Cohen, Pentagon chief under Bill Clinton, was all praise saying "this initiative will advance the US-India relationship in multiple ways."

Chatterjee agreed, saying the bill was a "historic moment" for relations between the two democracies as well as a "coming of age for the Indian-American community which showed what it could do if it spoke with one voice."


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