By David Ruppe
Global Security Newswire April 25, 2006
WASHINGTON — The United States and India have not yet resolved a difference over whether an Indian vow to refrain from future nuclear testing should be included in the text of an agreement to open civil nuclear trade, a senior U.S. official said yesterday (see GSN, April 7).
India unilaterally vowed to maintain its roughly eight-year moratorium on nuclear testing when President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first publicly announced the potential deal in July 2005.
Indian officials last week, however, publicly objected to U.S. language in a draft text for the agreement proposed this year reportedly saying India would continue to refrain from testing. U.S. Ambassador to India David Mulford, visiting Washington yesterday, said the matter remained under negotiation but could be managed.
“It’s a matter to be discussed,” Mulford said, responding to a question following a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
He denied that the difference could be a potential showstopper for the deal.
“It’s just a question of time and dedicated effort by the skilled people who are involved on both sides. And as Congress comes to judge this situation, I think they will see that this is really not an issue,” he said.
For the deal to go through, the U.S. Congress must waive U.S. export control restrictions on nuclear trade with India in place since the late 1970s due to New Delhi’s nuclear weapons program and tests in 1974 and 1998.Resistance to a Binding Moratorium
What the dispute means from a U.S. legal perspective is not clear. Current U.S. law and proposed statutory changes by the Bush administration clearly would require canceling U.S. nuclear trade if India tested again, regardless of what is in the agreement.
Officials in New Delhi have said they have no problem with those legal requirements, noting that U.S. law does not obligate India to refrain from testing.
They have said, though, that they would oppose any agreements obligating India to refrain from testing. India also has refused to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
“The United States had shared with India some weeks ago a preliminary draft agreement on India-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation under Article 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act,” Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna told reporters in New Delhi, according to an April 18 Times of India story.
“Among the elements suggested by the U.S. side is a reference to cooperation being discontinued were India to detonate a nuclear device. In preliminary discussions on these elements, India has already conveyed to the United States that such a provision has no place in the proposed bilateral agreement,” the spokesman reportedly said.
Mulford’s statements yesterday appeared to support that position. He said that U.S. willingness to accept an Indian declaration that it would not test — rather than requiring it in a binding agreement language — had not changed.
“India made its own unilateral declaration confirming its policy that it wasn’t going to do any more testing. That is there. That is what was agreed. There is no change in the goal posts,” he said.
He suggested the dispute over the not-publicly-released deal text could be managed with a change of language. “There will have to be some sort of wording arrangements there, which have not been agreed,” he said.
Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act requires that the administration submit to Congress for approval the text of nuclear cooperation agreements before any cooperation can take place.
U.S. critics have charged that India would face little disincentive against resuming testing once it had obtained nuclear technology and other benefits from the deal, such as relaxation of international export control restrictions.
They have noted that a provision of the deal would obligate the United States to help India build a strategic store of nuclear fuel and establish an international group of nuclear suppliers that would assure a continuous supply of nuclear reactor fuel in the event that U.S. cooperation ended.
“This deal provides incentives for India to resume nuclear testing,” said Henry L. Stimson Center President Emeritus Michael Krepon.