Aussie Prime Minister John Howard expects a group of nations that export uranium and nuclear technology will back a special deal between India and the United States. The backing of the Nuclear Suppliers Group is crucial to the historic deal between India and the US, struck last year and paving the way for a potential turnaround in Australia's nuclear supply policy. India has been lobbying Australia to change its policy which prevents the sale of uranium to the subcontinent because it's not a member of the nuclear non proliferation treaty (NPT). Australia is a major source of uranium in southeast Asia.
Australia has faced pressure from Washington and New Delhi to alter its position after the US struck a deal with India that fell outside the terms of the NPT. In a landmark deal, the US agreed to share its technology and uranium in return for India agreeing to let 14 of its 22 reactors - those used for its civilian needs - to be opened to international inspections. Mr Howard met Indian officials who are reportedly seeking Australian support over the deal with the nuclear suppliers forum.
India rejects US on gas pipeline with Iran
While India was saying hello to Australian prime minister John Howard, it was saying goodbye to US energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. During his three day visit to India earlier this month he lobbied top officials there to stop development of a gas pipeline deal with Iran. This week India's foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee said his country would go ahead with the deal. Bodman also promoted bilateral cooperation on nuclear and clean energy technologies during his visit.
According to Forbes the proposed controversial $7 billion gas pipeline would connect Iran to energy-hungry India via Pakistan, which would also get some of the gas. Mukherjee told the NDTV news network. “When I was in Iran, I mentioned it categorically that we are interested in having this gas pipeline. Now negotiations are going on about the prices.”
The $7B project, which will span 1,600 miles, is expected to deliver 90 million cubic meters of gas per day. US objections to the pipeline are not expected to affect India's bid for uranium from the suppliers' group.
More carrots, more sticks, and more fuelish behavior
Reuters reports the other sticking point is that the US has told India it will scrap the deal if India tests another nuclear weapon. Such an event, an underground nuclear test like the ones conducted in 1998, could also stop India's deal for access to Australian uranium dead in its tracks. The United States pressed India this week to honor its commitments.
U.S. and Indian negotiators are trying to complete an agreement affirming landmark political commitments announced by the two governments in 2005 and 2006 that would let India buy U.S. nuclear fuel and reactors for the first time in 30 years. New Delhi has balked at provisions Washington considers essential, including a U.S. requirement to halt nuclear cooperation if India tests another nuclear weapon or if it reprocesses fuel, U.S. government officials say.
India, Pakistan play chicken with missiles
Perhaps to make the point about its tenacity on the issues, this week, India test fired a nuclear capable missile. India's indigenously developed surface-to-surface ballistic missile Dhanush was on Friday test-fired from a naval ship in the Bay of Bengal off Orissa coast sources said. Dhanush, considered the naval version of surface-to-surface missile Prithvi, was being exclusively developed for the Indian Navy and has a striking range of up to 350 km. It can be deployed as an anti-ship weapon as well as for destroying land targets depending on the range. It can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons in its operational stage.
It seems that we have a number of nations who are becoming or claim to be nuclear states and are test firing missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons payloads. The Carnegie Endowment counts 30 nations who are playing this dangerous game. Iran test fired a nuclear capable missile only a week before the second round of UN sanctions against that country was voted in unanimously. I don't suppose there is any linkage between Iran's provocative act and the fact that Russia and China both voted for the sanctions. This lesson seems to have been lost on India and Pakistan.
In tit-for-tat response to India's test flight, this week Pakistan also test first a nuclear capable missile. The Hatf II Abdali ballistic missile — which has a range of 200 km and can carry "all types of warheads", was launched from an undisclosed location inside Pakistan. This is the fourth missile test carried out by Pakistan since February 23 and the second of the same missile.
US, India negotiations could lay an egg
The Economic Times of India reports main issue on the table between the US and India is reprocessing of spent fuel with India pushing for access to reprocessing technology and material. US laws ban export of reprocessing technology but has made exemptions for Japan, Euratom and Switzerland. India is pushing to be included in that category. India's Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chairman Anil Kakodkar had said recently that reprocessing is a “non-negotiable right.’’
This statement reminds me of the famous marketing phrase of the late Frank Perdue, a Maryland farmer, who said, "it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken." Frank sold chickens to Giant supermarkets in the Washington, DC, area. He was a tough negotiator, but people loved his products. He put up a lot of bluster, but delivered the goods just the same. Maybe that's the way the India deal with the US is going?
The issues of fuel supply assurances and nuclear testing are "not stumbling blocks" in the negotiations says Nicholas Burns, the number two man at the U.S. State Department. For its part India is indicating that the differences have been narrowed. Burns' plate also includes the issues include end use monitoring and fissile material control for the India deal. UPI reports that Indian nuclear scientists take a dimmer view saying the issue of nuclear fuel reprocessing will be "the toughest nut to crack.
Burns must have Frank Perdue in mind. He said "We were hopeful that we would be able to make progress to close out all of the issues on the 123 (agreement) talks. Some progress was made, but in our view, not enough. The United States has done its part. We've met every commitment we said we would meet. Right now I would say the ball is in India's court. "
Mr. Burns is a busy man. He's got Iran on his mind. Let's hope the Indian government gets the message while they have his attention. Otherwise, if India plays chicken with Burns, it might wind up with egg on its face.
Postscript - FBI Arrests two from India for violating Arms Export Control Act
The Times of India reports that negotiations between the US and India over a landmark nuclear deal could be derailed, at least temporarily, by the arrest on March 23rd of two Indians in the US for supplying high-tech components to India's strategic establishments in violation of US Arms Export Control Act. Worse, the arrests throw a spotlight on the alleged official involvement of two of India's government defense organizations as the impetus for the allegedly illegal purchases. Even if it doesn't stop negotiations, the arrests could provide rhetorical grist for US congressional opposition to the deal.
There is no news release about the arrests on either the FBI or US Department of Justice websites as of March 31st. However, the Indian press seems to have remarkably detailed information about the arrests and a grand jury indictment suggesting defense lawyers for the accused have shared this information with the news media. Update 4/3/07 the New York Times has a report based on the release of documents from the US Department of Justice.
According to multiple reports in the Indian news media, over the past week, both governments have been trying to resolve the hot potato that has been handed to them. The facts are, as reported by the Indian press, that the FBI arrested Parthasarathy Sudarshan, founder of Cirrus Electronics in Singapore, and Mythili Gopal, head of Cirrus (USA). Reportedly, the FBI alleges the two imported static RAM computer chips manufactured by a Phoenix-based company which are designed to withstand extreme changes in temperature and have applications in missile-guided systems.
The Times of India report quotes a key Indian nuclear analyst in the US who said the incident may have some ambiguous elements to it. Anupam Srivastava said,
"This case will be an embarrassment for both sides, though in and of itself it will not derail the deal. In the non-proliferation business, given the variety of actors and the inherent challenge of controlling for WMD uses in an age when more and more technology is dual-use in nature, there are no absolutes."
"These defense-electronic items are not always precursors to a WMD program. The problem in this case arises from the fact they were supplied to a dedicated Indian weapons complex."
Sources in the Indian government said, according to India media reports, that while dealing with the case of unlawful transfers with private entities is not very difficult, what has put India in a spot is that two Indian government officials have been mentioned as "co-conspirators,"which may put an entirely different spin on the case. It would imply official Indian government involvement in an Arms Export Control Act violation during a time of sensitive negotiations with the US over exchange of nuclear technologies.
According to India media reports one of the officials was reportedly a member of the Indian mission in the US during 2002 and 2005 when the transfers allegedly took place but no longer serves there. The other, says reports, is an official from the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE). As a result the Cirrus Electronics supplied critical components to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Aeronautical Development Establishment and Bharat Dynamics Ltd.
The India Express provides additional details. It reports that according to the grand jury indictment, the FBI has cited faxes, e-mails, telephone records and documents alleging that these point to involvement of Indian government officials — not identified by name — certifying the purchase of special microprocessors for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft project
The FBI has alleged that in February 2004, an Indian government official posted at the Indian embassy in Washington signed an “Inspection & Acceptance Certificate" on behalf of the Government of India. This certificate was meant for a vendor in Newburyport, Massachusetts, from whom Cirrus Electronics purchased the microprocessors.Forget about herding cats. These arrests appear to be another issue bouncing across the political landscape of the India US nuclear deal like a wild kangaroo in the Australian outback.
April 3, 2006 Reuters has an update.