Posted online: Tuesday, August 02, 2005 at 1003 hours IST
Updated: Tuesday, August 02, 2005 at 1234 hours IST
Washington, August 2
WASHINGTON: A recent US-India nuclear agreement was so hastily concluded the Bush administration is only now beginning to figure out how to implement it in the face of tough questions from the US Congress and nonproliferation experts.
The agreement, announced July 18 after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President George W Bush at the White House, upends decades-old nonproliferation rules and will require changes in US law and international policy.
US officials are optimistic the Republican-controlled Congress will approve steps to fulfill Bush’s promise to sell civilian nuclear technology to India. Such sales are now prohibited under US law because India refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, and is producing nuclear weapons banned by the pact and other agreements.
With the new deal, the United States in effect accepts India as a nuclear-weapon state. US and Indian officials had aimed to conclude an agreement before Bush makes an expected trip to India in early 2006. But the atmosphere seemed ripe while Singh was in Washington, so US and Indian negotiators worked around-the-clock to seal a deal.
Early grumblings among lawmakers and experts who believe the accord weakens nuclear-weapons controls suggest Bush could face a battle to amend or waive US law. Congressional sources say a growing Indian-American community will be a factor in supporting the accord.
So far, “the administration has no clear plan” to implement the agreement, said a Republican participant in a recent briefing for congressional staff. The participant said officials had “no good answers” on how the deal would affect international security.
US officials involved in the deal acknowledged there were many unanswered questions about implementing it. These include how long it would take for India to separate its civilian and military nuclear programs, so the civilian side could be put under international monitoring. Undersecretary of State R Nicholas Burns plans to visit India in September and it is hoped those talks will yield answers, a senior official said.
Some experts worry Bush will press Congress to act before India fulfills promises to adhere to international standards to stem the spread of nuclear weapons and missiles.
The senior official said the administration would not propose legislation for at least a month or two and would await Indian action to meet new nonproliferation commitments. “It will take months for the Indians to begin (to meet) some of their commitments and to complete others,” he said. “The Indians know we’re going to wait and see all this occur.”
He said once the process was underway, the administration would ask Congress and member nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which seeks to control nuclear-technology exports, to modify laws and policy.
After India tested nuclear weapons in 1998, Washington led international condemnation. But Bush has accelerated an embrace of the world’s largest democracy. His aides say India shares US values, does not transfer nuclear technology to troublesome entities and desperately needs to expand its energy sources.
Many officials also see India as a counterweight to China, and view the deal as an opportunity to revive a shaky US nuclear industry.
Robert Einhorn, formerly the State Department’s top nonproliferation official, said the strategic case for strengthening US-India relations has broad support. But the nuclear agreement is a setback for nonproliferation and will make it harder to advocate stricter rules for Iran and North Korea, Einhorn told an American Enterprise Institute programme. “The administration lowered the bar too far,” he said. He said India, unlike the five nuclear-weapons states recognised under the NPT — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — is still producing weapons-grade plutonium and should be encouraged to stop.