ibnlive » India

Jun 17, 2007 at 08:31pm IST

Why the nuclear deal is just not done

New Delhi: US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns met Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon to iron out the differences over the Indo-US nuclear deal, namely the 123 Agreement.

There is urgency in these talks as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to meet US President George W Bush next week during the G8 Summit. A deal now would also be politically significant for the Manmohan Singh government.

However, major obstacles still remain on a final agreement as India has expressed concerns over a clause, which says the US will take back all the nuclear fuel and plants they had set up if New Delhi conducted a nuclear test.

There have also been differences over the reprocessing of spent fuel and on the permanent fuel supply guarantees.

Does this mean India's national interest is being compromised in the deal? This the question debated on CNN-IBN’s special show Face The Nation on Thursday.

On the panel of experts to try and answer the question were K Santhanam, Nuclear Scientist and former director of Institute for Defence Story and Analysis; and Siddharth Varadarajan, Associate Editor, The Hindu.

Is India in a Win-Win Deal?

Dr Santhanam replied with an emphatic ‘no’ when he was asked whether India was compromising on its national security, whereas Varadarajan was not certain.

Most of the viewers — 98 per cent of them — also agreed with Dr Santhanam that India was in no way going to compromise national security with this deal. Dr Santhanam said he thought it was going to be a win-win deal for India.

"We are nearly there also some work has yet to be done. This agreement is very much in the interest of both the countries. I think it represents the most ambitious proposal in the last 30 years. It allows us to correct major problems in the relations and it is going to deliver India from its nuclear isolation. This is an extraordinary partnership"
— Nicolas Burns, US Under Secretary of State

“A kind of a bilateral dispensation has occurred which will enable our access to more nuclear electricity and the obstacles and the hurdles which have occurred in the past will be removed in one sweep," he says. India needs these nuclear power reactors as the nation is facing a serious energy deficit, he points out.

Varadarajan also says that this is not really a back-door entry by India into the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which India has never wanted to sign, as NPT does not allow nuclear weapons.

“The deal in its original form on July 18 was a bargain where US and India offered to do certain things. But what we have seen with the negotiations over the last two years is that the US has been sliding back from its own commitment. So it’s delivering rather less than what it promised and in a sense wants India to offer more than what it agreed to. That's really where the negotiations are stuck,” Varadarajan explains.


He is of the opinion that whether India is going to accept slavery with a smile will depend on the final form of the deal and how the government approaches it.

“Clearly, the US would look at this deal as a means of tying India into a strategic relationship where the US is able to use India's economic, strategic and military power to further its own interests. India may have to compromise its own foreign policies with Iran, China and other countries in order to protect its relationship with the US and I am hoping that this does not happen,” he says.

Slavery With a Smile?

However, Dr Santhanam disagrees with Varadarajan and says that the deal does not signify slavery at all.

He says India's nuclear programme, in terms of producing nuclear electricity, does face a shortage of uranium to run nuclear reactors.

“With our ambitious power reactor programme, we are running short. Reprocessing is in the negotiation phase right now as is the need to conduct a nuclear test in the future,” he points out.

Varadarajan, however, says that before suggesting a possible solution to the problems that are cropping up in the talks, it is necessarily to see the issues that were absolutely critical to India.

“There is the problem of reprocessing of fuel, the ability to purchase a whole gambit of civil nuclear equipment and we have to hold fast on to these things so as to not to give up. I think the Americans have to come up with some kind of a magic formula for a breakthrough because India has compromised as much as it can. It has to give India the right to reprocess and drop any linkage of suspension of civil cooperation with testing," he adds.

Dr Santhanam says, "After May 1998, there was a clear declaration from India that we don't have to conduct any more nuclear tests. India should not have any problem legalising this position. But this is subject to the condition that if the international security condition changes, then we should be allowed to test."

He says the breakthrough will be that India should have a clause like this in the agreement, which would allow it to break the deal in case of a change in the international security condition.

He also points out that reprocessing of spent fuel would also be a sticky point especially if the US refuses to back down on the same.

Final poll results: Is India's national interest being compromised?

Yes: 5 per cent

No: 95 per cent

bullet In India, terror attacks have been confined to north India, having hardly traveled down south.
bullet 123 Agreement is necessary to make the nuclear deal operational. India says it cannot accept some new terms it sees as impinging on its sovereignty.
bullet India says it cannot accept some new terms such as a US decision to end nuclear trade if New Delhi conducts another nuclear test.
bullet Reprocessing spent fuel rights is another major hurdle. Reprocessing is a method of chemically separating the plutonium, unused uranium, and highly toxic high-level nuclear waste. The plutonium and uranium extracted by reprocessing can then be re-used as fuel at nuclear power plants. Reprocessing, India has argued, is vital to its three-stage programme as the fast breeder reactors will need reprocessed fuel when they are ready for civilian use. India's three-stage nuclear power programme is built around the need to reprocess spent fuel into plutonium.
bullet India runs reprocessing facilities in Tarapur, Trombay and Kalpakkam, as well as a small uranium enrichment facility in Karnataka. India is demanding the sky in terms of reprocessing and enrichment technology from the US.
bullet While the US has given the rights to Japan and Europe to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium, it has not provided them any technology license.
bullet In fact, under the Hyde Act, India is the only country that could be entitled to such technologies, if they were run under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
bullet Indian demand for such technology hits at the very heart of US concerns that technology could slip from the civilian part of the Indian programme to the military one.
bullet Feeling in Washington that time is running out as the administration of President George W Bush nears the end of its term.
bullet Indian official assessments are that the chances of getting a better deal from any Democrat successor to Bush are next to zero.
bullet The deal aims to overturn three decades of US sanctions on sales of nuclear reactors and fuel to India to help it meet its soaring energy needs.