U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday called on India to modify a domestic nuclear liability law that has dampened U.S. enthusiasm for engaging in atomic commerce with the developing South Asian nation, Reuters reported (see GSN, Dec. 16, 2010).
The controversial Indian law caps nuclear reactor operator liability following an atomic incident to approximately $320 million and permits lawsuits against suppliers of atomic materials, technology and services -- a measure that conflicts with international norms.
Washington hopes that New Delhi will "tighten up" a bill to safeguard foreign parts manufacturers from lawsuits, arguing the measure it is considerably more strict than similar laws elsewhere in the world.
"We need to resolve those issues that still remain so that we can reap the rewards of the extraordinary work that both of our governments have done," Clinton said during a visit to India this week (Mukherjee/Quinn, Reuters, July 18).
New Delhi and Washington in 2008 inked a landmark agreement that permitted U.S. nuclear firms to conduct civilian atomic commerce with nuclear-armed India. In exchange, New Delhi agreed to open its nonmilitary nuclear installations to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. In order to conclude the agreement, India received an exemption allowing it to purchase atomic technology from all members of the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The Obama administration is now backing India's quest for membership in the coalition of nuclear exporters (see GSN, July 18).
U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman on Monday said there was no discrepancy between hoped-for atomic trade with India and recently instituted NSG guidelines that prohibit the export of nuclear fuel enrichment and reprocessing systems to countries outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Asian News International reported (see GSN, July 14). India is not a treaty state.
The technology is question could be used to produce nuclear-weapon material, a capability already possessed by New Delhi.
"There is nothing indeed inconsistent between what has been happening in the Nuclear Suppliers [Group] guidelines and bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and India," the deputy secretary said in remarks to students in New Delhi. "That cooperation was enabled by the 123 agreement signed between the two sides."
"The reprocessing consent agreement between our two nations concludes six month ahead of time and has only ever been two concluded twice before between the United States and any other party -- Japan and the European Union," Poneman said. "So I do not think there is any other basis for a charge of betrayal," he added, possibly referring to recent comments from India's former atomic energy chief (Pooja Shali, Asian News International/Economic Times, July 18).
Clinton on Tuesday said Washington was "encouraged" by the resumption of a peace process between Pakistan and India that was frozen for more than two years following the November 2008 militant assault on the Indian city of Mumbai, the Associated Press reported.
New Delhi pulled out of the composite dialogue, which seeks to simultaneously address such divisive issues as Kashmir, nuclear weapons and terrorism, as it did not feel Islamabad had done enough to suppress the Pakistani-based extremists that masterminded the siege that killed more than 160 people.
The foreign ministers from the two longtime antagonists are scheduled to meet next week.
"We are encouraged by the dialogue between India and Pakistan," Clinton said, characterizing the dialogue as "the most promising approach" to building mutual trust between the two nuclear-armed nations (Ravi Nessman, Associated Press/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 19).