Brahma Chellaney - International Herald Tribune
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2006
With international attention focused on Iran's renegade nuclear program, a much-trumpeted nuclear deal that was to showcase the emerging global strategic partnership between the United States and India has begun to unravel virtually unnoticed.
Unless the United States rolls back its demands, it is almost certain that no formal nuclear agreement will be ready for signature when President George W. Bush arrives in New Delhi on March 1. A barren U.S. presidential visit would ensure a slow death for the accord.
That accord represented a statement of intent to promote civil nuclear-energy cooperation. Since it was announced last July, intense negotiations on a formal agreement have run into major hurdles over U.S. efforts to shift the goalpost, triggering an Indian backlash. The present and former chiefs of the Indian nuclear program have vented their fury in public against the U.S. negotiating goals.
The concern in Washington over the July deal coming loose has found expression in contradictory ways - first an undiplomatic outburst by the U.S. ambassador to India that resulted in him being summoned to the Indian foreign office for an admonition, and then the dangling of a new carrot.
To salvage the deal, the Bush administration is offering to include India in its proposed global energy partnership program that is to supply countries with reactor fuel and take back the spent fuel afterward to prevent its use weaponry. The dubious plan is to rely on a technology that at present remains prone to catching fire and is not cost-effective. The U.S. Congress, moreover, is unlikely to change the law to allow the dumping of foreign-generated nuclear waste.
In any case, the invitation to India is contingent upon successful negotiations to implement last July's accord. Those negotiations, however, have been caught up in battles over U.S. demands that India bring much of its autonomous nuclear program under permanent international inspections.
New Delhi "reciprocally" agreed in July to accept a series of legally binding obligations that include the civil-military separation of its nuclear program. But no sooner had the accord had been signed than Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns repudiated the principle of reciprocity, declaring the accord "will have to be implemented by the Indian government and then we will have to seek these changes from the Congress."
While the accord merely states that India will begin "identifying and separating civilian and military nuclear facilities and programs in a phased manner," Washington has added specific conditionality - that such a separation plan be "credible," "transparent" and "defensible." Put simply, America has set itself up as the arbiter to whom India is answerable. In contrast, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has assured India's Parliament that, "It will be an autonomous Indian decision as to what is 'civilian' and what is 'military."'
Washington has also sought to renege on the accord's central plank - that India would "assume the same responsibilities and practices and acquire the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology." Washington now insists India cannot pursue the same "practices" as the five established nuclear powers, which offer nuclear materials and facilities for International Atomic Energy Agency inspections in return for token inspections by the agency.
U.S. negotiators are also insisting on a watertight civil-military separation in India, contrary to the practice in the other nuclear powers, most of which do not even pretend to have carried out any such segregation. Furthermore, by seeking to apply international inspections to the Indian uranium-enrichment and beryllium facilities and to the dual-purpose fast-breeder program, U.S. negotiators are seeking to constrict India's nuclear military capability before New Delhi has built a credible minimal deterrent against its main rival, China.
America's goalpost-shifting approach shows it will accept India at most as a second-class nuclear power. India is unlikely to countenance that. The only way the deadlock can be broken is through political intervention at the highest level. And by a return to the principles enshrined in last July's accord.