U.S. Would Assure India Fuel Even If Delhi Tests Nuclear Weapons
By David Ruppe
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON — The U.S.-Indian nuclear trade agreement proposed by the Bush administration would assure New Delhi of a continued supply of nuclear reactor fuel even if it resumes nuclear weapons testing, a senior U.S. official said yesterday (see GSN, April 6).
India has insisted upon the “fuel assurances” arrangement in negotiations, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told Global Security Newswire following an event promoting the deal on Capitol Hill.
“It was a major issue of the negotiations,” said Burns, who led U.S. negotiations on the deal. “I think that was reassuring to them as we stepped up to the final negotiations.”
Critics of the agreement are calling the provision a fundamental flaw, saying it diminishes any penalty India would pay for future testing.
“To me, this is the most egregious aspect of the deal. We would be obliged to help India find fuel elsewhere after it tests nuclear weapons, after imposing sanctions due to our public law,” Michael Krepon, president emeritus of the Henry L. Stimson Center said by e-mail.
“I think it’s sort of smoke and mirrors,” said Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and a former Defense Department nonproliferation official.
The fuel assurance arrangement “kind of overrides everything, because it reduces the amount of risk for India to proceed to test,” he said.
“It reduces regret to nearly zero,” Sokolski added.
Burns said officials negotiated the arrangement with the expectation the deal would last. “India’s a law-abiding nation. It’s a democracy and India’s a trustworthy nation. So we’re not going into this deal looking for the five ways to get out of it. We’re going into this deal to complete it and to continue it and sustain it.”
The United States cut off contracted nuclear fuel supplies to India before, in 1980, after Congress prohibited nuclear cooperation with countries that tested atomic weapons and lacked international safeguards over all their nuclear facilities.
That 1978 law continues to bar U.S. nuclear trade with India because of its ongoing weapons program and nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998. India also is restricted from nuclear trade with most of the world’s nuclear technology exporters, through the Nuclear Suppliers Group, because of its nuclear weapons program.
The Bush administration last month outlined a bilateral agreement that requires the United States to press the Nuclear Suppliers Group into waiving its restrictions on India, and press Congress to exempt India from the U.S. restrictions. India has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
In implementing legislation forwarded to Congress last month, the administration wrote that U.S nuclear exports to India would be blocked again if India tested another nuclear device.
However, in a written agreement as part of a deal to ensure the continuity of international inspections in India, the United States pledged four measures to “guard against any disruption of fuel supplies,” including by supporting an Indian effort to develop a nuclear fuel strategic reserve and to arrange for foreign supplies if U.S. ones were cut off.
“We’ve agreed to set up a council of advisers — India and the United States and other countries — so that if there is ever a threat of interruption of [U.S.] supply, those countries could meet to figure out how to maintain supply to India,” Burns said during a March 2 press conference in New Delhi
He did not note at the time that the assurances would carry even if India resumed testing.Fuel Supplies Were Cut Off Before
India required the fuel assurances in exchange for its commitment to allow permanent international safeguards on whichever nuclear facilities it designates as civilian. Fourteen of New Delhi’s 22 reactors would be placed under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision under the plan, while eight would be designated as military sites and not be placed under safeguards.
Burns said Indian leaders were concerned about a potential replay of the U.S. fuel cutoff to India’s Tarapur reactors after New Delhi conducted its first nuclear test in 1974.
The United States in 1963 had agreed to supply India with fuel until 1993, in exchange for IAEA safeguards on the reactors. Congressional restrictions passed in 1978, however, required an end to fuel sales and other nuclear cooperation due to the test and because India would not accept safeguards on all of its nuclear materials.
The United States ended nuclear cooperation with India in 1980. France began supplying fuel to New Delhi after the Reagan administration in 1983 negotiated a three-way deal in which India agreed to put the Tarapur facility under safeguards.
Sokolski said that future testing, after the Nuclear Suppliers Group restrictions are lifted and India has gained access to foreign supplies of nuclear fuel, is a distinct possibility.
“There are a lot of technical reasons why they’ve got to do it. Now they’re saying they want to catch up with the Chinese, or at least some of the [Indian] hawks are — a 400-plus minimum of weapons in 10 years,” he said.
“You’re going to want to go thermonuclear, they can’t do that without testing,” he said, referring to a type of nuclear weapon potentially hundreds of times more powerful than the supposed fission weapons India tested in 1998.
Sokolski said some U.S. former “advisers and people who served as ambassadors who are lobbying for the agreement” have made statements that “make it very clear that people in the councils of our administration think that maybe India getting more weapons and better rockets is something that we need to embrace.”
Indian officials have suggested they have no plans for significantly expanding their arsenal. If “we remain committed to a credible minimum deterrent, if our posture so far has been one of restraint and responsibility not disputed even by our critics, there is no reason why we should suddenly change now,” Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said in Washington last month.
However, Indian negotiators resisted requirements to cap the nation’s nuclear weapons fissile material production. Experts say the nuclear material safeguards regime India has proposed for the deal would enable an expansion of its nuclear weapons production capability from as many as 10 to as many as 50 weapons per year. India is estimated to have up to 200 weapons.
India also resisted swearing off future nuclear weapons testing, favoring instead a voluntary moratorium, Burns wrote in a written statement to Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in November.
“Based on our interactions with the Indian government, we believe that additional conditions such as implementing a moratorium on fissile material production, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT], and/or joining the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state ‘would likely be deal-breakers,’” he wrote.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, testifying before Congress Wednesday, said India resisted full safeguards as part of the deal because it wanted an ability to expand its program in the future.
“They want to reserve the possibility, given the neighborhood that they live in, and given the politics that they have engaged in, the politically adversarial relationships that they’ve had in that region, to increase their strategic program,” she said.
“But I would again note that the restraint has been considerable. It remains a relatively small program,” she added.
Burns said yesterday he believes India is negotiating the deal out of genuine interest in civil nuclear cooperation with the United States.
“We believe that India is going into this particular arrangement because it wants to increase its civil-nuclear, it needs the investment and technology, and needs to have it legally permissible under U.S. and international laws. So there’s an incentive there for India to maintain the deal, as there is for us,” he said.
“We’re going into [the deal] with the glass three-quarters full, not three-quarters empty,” he said.India Would Not Be Constrained
Indian officials have sought to reassure domestic critics that the Bush administration’s proposed implementing legislation would not obligate India to forgo nuclear weapons testing forever. Some of those critics have expressed concern that India would be overly constrained by the deal.
According to former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee yesterday, as reported by The Times of India, “This bill, when passed, will convert a voluntary moratorium on further tests by India into a legally binding commitment, for all times to come, without any possibility of withdrawal under special circumstances, as provided for in the CTBT. This position is not acceptable.”
“India should retain the right to conduct nuclear tests if any other country, such as China on Pakistan, were to do so,” he reportedly said.
“When non-testing in perpetuity becomes a condition under U.S. law for Washington’s help — and that of the Nuclear Suppliers Group — with civilian nuclear technology, it is tantamount to India agreeing to follow the CTBT and limit further development of its nuclear arsenal,” according to a front-page commentary in the Calcutta newspaper The Telegraph on March 18.
While future testing could end U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation in accordance with U.S. law, Indian Foreign Secretary Saran said at an event in Washington last month, India would not be legally barred from resuming testing by U.S. law or the proposed deal.
It is a matter of existing U.S. law “that if there is a state that is exploding a nuclear device, then that would trigger off an end to U.S. cooperation with that country. As a part of U.S. law that is fine. It is not a part of an India-U.S. treaty or understanding,” he said.