Wednesday, September 3, 2008

India nuclear deal hits the rocks

Rep, Howard Berman releases a secret letter to Congress

[Multiple updates 09/04/08, 09/05/08 below]
09/05/08 Latest news reports links here
09/06/08 the NSG approved India.s nuclear deal


Check Siddharth Varadarajan's blog for late breaking developments and reports direct from Vienna.

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. will not sell sensitive nuclear technologies to India and would immediately terminate all trade involving nuclear technologies if New Delhi conducted a nuclear test. Apparently, the State Department told this to Congress in correspondence that has remained secret since last winter.

The Indian government will undoubtedly see the letter as a significant setback to bilateral relations with the U.S. Also, it virtually compels the Indian government to seek nuclear technologies from French and Russian suppliers. In blunt words it it is a shipwreck for the India nuclear deal and for the aspirations of U.S. firms that want to sell nuclear technologies to that country.

The newspaper reported that the correspondence was made public by Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, just before the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group meets again in Vienna. The group's will hold a second round of meetings to consider releasing India from restrictions on nuclear trade as part of a U.S.-India civil nuclear deal that has been in the works for at least two years.

Berman opposes the India nuclear deal. The action appears to be directed at influencing the meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group which convenes later this week in Vienna to consider a second draft of the India nuclear deal. Berman's action was praised by Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which opposes the U.S.-India agreement. Kimball told the newspaper he supports the conditions laid out in the State Department correspondence and advocates that the NSG adopt them.

Basically, the letter says the U.S. would cut off all supplies of nuclear fuel to India if it ever conducts another nuclear test. It also says the U.S. would get other NSG states to cut off nuclear fuel supplies as well. It asserts the U.S. has no plans to transfer so-called "dual use" technologies that would support uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing, and the U.S. reserves the right to override an IAEA determination about the effectiveness of safeguards on nuclear technologies sold to India. These terms and conditions for the nuclear deal are not what India expected to get from it.

In terms of the outcome of the NSG meeting, none of them look good. If the NSG is unable to come to terms with India and the U.S. at its meeting in Vienna, it is unlikely either nation has the patience or stomach for a third round especially with the contents of the Berman letter being made public. Even if the NSG approves the current draft as submitted by the U.S., which is unlikely, India has no incentive to buy anything from American firms. Finally, even if India gets what it wants, or at least some of what it wants, which is more likely, India would still not buy nuclear fuel and technologies from the U.S. because of the threat of a cutoff in the future.

It's bad medicine as we say here in the West, and there is big trouble ahead for the next U.S. administration in its dealings with India nuclear deal or not.

Updates 09/04/08

Bloomberg wire service has an update reporting the NSG is unlikely to grant India a waiver to buy nuclear fuel. The Arms Control Association has a copy of the U.S. proposal. The Bloomberg wire service report online has a link to the 26-page letter from the State Dept. that Rep. Berman released to the press on Sept 3.

The Washington Post has an update from New Dehli on reactions to the State Department letter. It's bad news for Singh and his government. The New York Times reports that opposition parties are calling for Singh's resignation saying that he misled them about the nature and content of his negotiations with the Bush Administration.

Mr. Singh told lawmakers last year that “the agreement does not in any way affect India’s right to undertake future nuclear tests, if it is necessary.” In fact the State Department letter says the U.S. would impose harsh measures if India conducted another nuclear test.

The Hindu has coverage from the NSG meeting in Vienna. Some progress is reported in the negotiations, but there are still serious issues that need to be resolved and only one more day to do so. According to the newspaper, " . . .the proposal was really about what kind of relationship they wished to have with India,” a European diplomat told The Hindu.

Updates 09/05/08

Overall, the Hindu newspaper reports that things do not look good for an agreement on Friday. Here's the lead from the latest dispatch posted early Friday morning Sept 5.

The Group of Six like-minded states are continuing to insist on a clear "cause and effect" link between a future Indian atomic test and the termination of nuclear supplies and will block approval of the United States proposal to allow commerce with India when the Nuclear Suppliers Group reconvenes here Friday.

Prior coverage on this blog

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Flagg707 said...

It's bad news not just for Singh, but for the non-proliferation crowd as well, they just don't know it yet.

You are telling a country of over 1 billion people, a country never accused of selling nuclear weapons secrets, that they will continue to be excluded from international civilian nuclear cooperation based on a treaty that was hypocritical at best when it was signed (the weapons-state in crowd vs. the unwashed masses of non-weapons states - oh but the weapons states promise to get rid of their weapons some day. Really. Seriously.) and obsolete ever since the USSR collapsed.

India has run a nuclear program, built reactors, worked on a thorium cycle and preparing to build fast reactors - all on a budget that wouldn't keep the DOE Idaho office afloat.

Sure, preventing them from interacting with the NSG will slow their programs, dramatically in some cases, but it also does nothing but spur them to focus on the thorium cycle and U-233 work - all outside of international safeguards.

Instead of gettiing an okay deal and building bridges with India, the opposition to the agreement could wind up with an angry India motivated enough to build and entirely new fuel cycle and reprocessing capability - a fuel cycle that some day they could export. And you think Pu-239 makes a good bomb? U-233 is, theoretically, even better.

Sigh. Where the hell is the creativity necessary to adjust to a time of major change in the world?

Kirk Sorensen said...

No, U-233 makes a lousy bomb that kills its makers and operators from radiation exposure.