July 28, 2007

Indian Officials Satisfied With Nuclear Pact With US

By Steve Herman
New Delhi
28 July 2007

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Indian Nat. Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, center, Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, left, and Dept. of Atomic Energy Chairman Anil Kakodkar, right, address a press conference, 27 July 2007

Indian officials are expressing deep satisfaction with a peacetime nuclear deal with the United States that took two years to finalize. The agreement permits the U.S., for the first time in three decades, to provide assistance and fuel for energy-deficient India's civilian nuclear power program. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi that Indian government officials are optimistic the deal will also find favor with a skeptical U.S. Congress.

After five rounds of intensely technical negotiations over two years, India appears to have extracted nearly all the concessions it had sought from the United States.

Both countries are calling the landmark civil nuclear cooperation agreement announced Friday "a historic milestone."

While the text of the agreement has not been made public, India says it retains the right to conduct nuclear weapons tests, and the United States will allow India to reprocess U.S.-provided nuclear material.

One of the deal's fiercest critics within the Indian government during the negotiations was Anil Kakodkar, chief of the Atomic Energy Department, but the final agreement gives Kakodkar reason for satisfaction.

India's Atomic Energy Commission chairman, Anil Kakodkar, says India has won the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, 28 July 2007

"This is what exactly we were looking for, as far as the full civil nuclear cooperation. So it's there," he said.

U.S. officials contend the deal is still consistent with a law called the Hyde Act, under which India would lose access to American nuclear fuel if it carried out further atomic weapons tests.

The agreement apparently makes no reference to what would happen if India indeed conducts such a test. That lack of clarity has satisfied Indian skeptics like Kakodkar, but has some influential U.S. congressmen expressing opposition to the agreement.

India's national security adviser, M.K. Narayanan, is optimistic, however, that the deal's provisions do not violate U.S. law.

India's national security advisor M.K. Narayanan at New Delhi news conference on US-India civil nuclear pact, 28 July 2007

"We've got a deal, a very good deal which we believe will - should - meet the legal requirements of both countries," he said. "Now, I cannot speak on the behalf of individual senators or congressmen in this matter. We dealt with the U.S. administration, and I think they know the limits of where they can go."

India was ostracized by the world nuclear community for conducting weapons tests in 1974 and 1998. Implementation of the deal will require a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the multi-national body controlling the legitimate trade in materials that can be used to make nuclear bombs. The U.S., a member of the NSG, has said it supports such a waiver.

India also still needs to work out safeguard agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for a special new facility that will be built to reprocess fuel from the U.S.

A key element of the agreement is that no U.S. fuel will be used in Indian's military nuclear weapons programs.

The agreement also has to be passed by the legislatures in both countries.

Despite those hurdles, there is jubilation here about the agreement. Even opposition politicians are praising it. The Hindustan Times newspaper calls it "audacious."

The U.S.-India Business Council predicts the deal will generate $150 billion in new trade between the two countries, as India expands its nuclear energy infrastructure over the next several decades

Non-proliferation experts have said the United States' willingness to allow India to reprocess nuclear fuel it provides to New Delhi is inconsistent with its drive in the international community to stop Iran from doing so. Unlike New Delhi, Tehran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Until now the United States has allowed only key allies like the European Union and Japan to reprocess U.S.-originated fuel on their own soil.

But Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns told reporters Friday that the agreement "sends an important message to nuclear outlaw regimes, such as Iran."

"It sends a message that if you behave responsibly in regards to nonproliferation, and you play by the rules, you will not penalized, but will be invited to participate more fully in international nuclear trade," he said.

Burns said the United States sees India's civil nuclear program as a special case and doesn't envision entering into an agreement with any other states.

"I can assure you that the United State is not going to suggest a similar deal with any other country in the world. We have always felt of India as an exception," Burns said. "We've made the argument that India has not proliferated its nuclear technology. That India, in effect, outside the system, has played by the rules and the system would be strengthened by bringing it in.

"But we are not anticipating in any way, shape or form a similar deal for any other country."

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