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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 39

Face of Deception and Betrayal

Thursday 18 September 2008, by Satish Chandra


The UPA Government’s deception of the Indian people on the nuclear deal has been clearly exposed in the answers provided by the US State Department, on January 16, 2008, to the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in response to the queries posed by the latter on October 5, 2007. These responses were made public only on September 2, 2008 and had been kept under wraps so far at the request of the State Department as they were considered “diplomatically sensitive”. It does not take much imagination to figure out that the State Department’s gag order must have been issued at the request of the Indian authorities who feared that the plainspeak in the responses would have fostered an uproar in Parliament and torpedoed the deal. This is corroborated by US Ambassador David Mulford’s assertion that India knew of the letter and that it doesn’t contain anything not known to the government. The letter, seen along with the final draft accepted by the NSG on September 6, exposes the government.

The deception perpetrated by the government is abundantly clear from a juxtaposition of the State Department’s responses with the assertions made by the government as detailed below.


THE Prime Minister had asserted in the Lok Sabha on August 13, 2007 that the 123 Agreement “does not in any way affect India’s right to undertake future nuclear tests”. The State Department’s response, however, flatly contradicts this and is categorical that

Should India detonate a nuclear explosive device, the United States has the right to cease nuclear cooperation with India immediately, including the supply of fuel, as well as to request the return of any items transferred from the US, including fresh fuel. In addition, the US has the right to terminate the agreement…

Fuel Supply Assurances

THE Prime Minister had asserted in the Lok Sabha on August 13, 2007 that the 123 Agreement envisages “US support for an Indian effort to develop a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply for the lifetime of India’s reactors”. The State Department’s response, however, makes it clear that assurances of its support in this regard are not all encompassing and will not always apply. It points out that the phrase “disruption of fuel supplies” in Article 5.6 of the 123 Agreement (to guard against which the US has promised to take some steps) merely refers “to disruptions in supply to India that may result through no fault of its own” like trade wars, failure of US companies to fulfil commitments etc. These assurances would not apply if the US ceases cooperation due, for instance, to “detonation of a nuclear weapon, material violation of the 123 Agreement, or termination, abrogation or material violation of International Atomic energy Agency safeguards”.

Clearly such assurances are not meant to “insulate” India from the consequences of testing or violation of its non-proliferation commitments. Moreover, the parameters of the proposed strategic reserve are yet to be developed and it is premature to assume that they would be “inconsistent” with the Hyde ct. This clearly implies that the strategic reserve cannot be large and certainly not for the lifetime of the reactor as the Hyde Act stipulates that the fuel stockpile should be limited to “reasonable operating requirements.”

Corrective Measures

THE Prime Minister had made out in the Lok Sabha on August 13, 2007 that the 123 Agreement endorsed India’s right “to take corrective measures to ensure uninterrupted operation of its civilian nuclear reactors in the event of disruption of foreign fuel supply”. He had earlier also made out that in perpetuity safeguards would only be agreed to in return for in perpetuity assuance of fuel supplies.

The State Department’s response makes it clear that India has not provided any definition of “corrective measures” and that it cannot invoke them to get out of its obligations under the agreement. Indeed, even after termination or expiry of the agreement India will not have the legal right to suspend application of safeguards, abandon reprocessing consent and non peaceful use. In this context, it quotes Condoleezza Rice’s assertion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “We’ve been very clea with the Indians that the permanence of safeguards is the permanence of safeguard without conditions.” This makes a mockery of the claim that in perpetuity safeguards are in any way linked to it perpetuity assurances of fuel supply.

Full Civil Nuclear Cooperation

THE Prime Minister had made out in the Lok Sabha on August 13, 2007 that “the concept of full civil nuclear cooperation” is enshrined in the 123 Agreement.

The Agreement stipulates that such cooperation will include nuclear reactors and aspects of the associated nuclear fuel cycle, including technology transfer on industrial or commercial scale… The US has a longstanding policy of not supplying to any country enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water production facilities. This Agreement provides for such transfers to India only through an amendment…
Forward-looking language has been included for dual-use transfers of enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water production facilities. We hope transfers will become possible as cooperation develops and expands in the future.

The State Department’s response indicates that civil nuclear cooperation being envisaged by the US is much less than “full”. This is evident from the assertion that the US Government “will not assist India in the design, construction or operation of sensitive nuclear technologies through transfer of dual use items”. Moreover, it also pours cold water on the Prime Minister’s hopes of cooperation in these areas in the future by stating that it also “does not plan to negotiate an amendment to the proposed US-India Agreement to transfer to India sensitive nuclear facilities or critical components of such facilities”.


WHILE the Prime Minister had stated in the Lok Sabha on August 13, 2008 that “India has accepted only IAEA safeguards”, the State Department’s response indicates that the US, as well as India, clearly envisage the possibility of fall-back safeguards. Accordingly, it points out that
Safeguards in some form—IAEA or other—must always be maintained with respect to all nuclear items in India subject to the Agreement irrespective of the duration of other provisions of the Agreement or whether the Agreement is terminated or suspended for any reasons.

The Government of India agrees that Agency safeguards are “in perpetuity” and “fully appreciates” that the Agreement “does not limit safeguards required to be Agency safeguards”.

Relevance of Hyde Act

WHILE the Prime Minister’s Office, in a press release of July 2, 2008, claimed that “the 123 Agreement clearly overrides the Hyde Act”, the State Department in its response establishes that the former is anchored in the latter by stating that the 123 Agreement is in “full conformity” with the Hyde Act and “consistent” with its legal requirement. The subsidiary nature of the 123 Agreement vis a vis the Hyde Act and the Atomic Energy Act is apparent from the frequent references to these pieces of legislation in the State Department’s response.

It is evident from the foregoing that the government has been guilty of misleading the Indian people on key issues of the nuclear deal. As per the deal, contrary to the government’s assertions, India cannot test, has not secured cast- iron in-perpetuity fuel supply assurances in return for in-perpetuity safeguards, has not spelt out and secured concurrence for the corrective measures that it could undertake in the event of supply disruptions, has not secured full civil nuclear cooperation, has accepted fall-back safeguards, and the Hyde Act remains relevant as the legislation governing the 123 Agreement. These, along with several other shortcomings, had from time to time been highlighted by the critics of the deal and the State Department’s responses are not only a corroboration of the same but also an indicator that the government deliberately chose to mislead the people in the matter.

The government’s contention that the State Department’s responses are an internal matter for the US is, to say the least, childish and immature. Given the fact that these responses have revealed major differences in perceptions between the two governments on several critical issues, would it not be more prudent to reconcile the same before proceeding further?

(Courtesy : The Pioneer)

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