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U.S. Offer on India Fails to Address Concerns

By Greg Webb

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- The United States has circulated a revised proposal to nuclear exporting nations to waive nonproliferation measures barring key nuclear sales to India, but the new draft does not appear to address concerns expressed earlier by many governments.  The move comes ahead of a two-day session of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group set to begin tomorrow in Vienna (see GSN, Sept. 2).

Washington has sought to waive existing trade restrictions on India, arguing that New Delhi has a strong nuclear nonproliferation record and deserves unique treatment.  NSG guidelines bar major trade with nations that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and do not allow international oversight of all their nuclear activities.

In comments addressing an earlier U.S. draft, many nations at the NSG meeting in August sought to impose additional conditions on India, such as making clear that all nuclear trade would end if New Delhi conducted a nuclear-weapon test.

The latest U.S. draft, acquired by the Arms Control Association, does not include any such conditions, raising the prospect that the group's meeting could again end inconclusively.

"The U.S. will not achieve consensus approval for a text presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, and it will certainly not achieve consensus on the text currently on the table," one diplomat told Reuters.  "The U.S. (may) finally have to enter into real negotiations with countries who put forward amendments, rather than negotiate exclusively with India as it has done up to now."

"I'd be surprised if we can do this by Friday," said another diplomat.

Secret U.S. Interpretation Released

Meanwhile, a key U.S. lawmaker yesterday released a document describing a potentially controversial Bush administration interpretation of a U.S.-Indian nuclear trade deal.  The document is a set of answers to questions submitted last year by the late Tom Lantos (D-Lantos), then chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  The Bush administration asked the committee to keep the answers secret, even though they are not classified, apparently out of concern that their publication could disrupt India's approval of the deal.  Current committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) posted the document on the panel's Web site yesterday.

The answers seem to contradict India's interpretation of some of the provisions of the bilateral deal, the text of which was released publicly about one year ago.

When it was released, the deal text drew questions from critics who said it could commit the United States to help India secure a reliable supply of nuclear fuel, even if New Delhi conducted a nuclear test.

In particular, the text appears to obligate the United States "to develop a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply over the lifetime of India's reactors." 

In addition, the text has language that promises U.S. efforts to find alternative nuclear fuel suppliers if India faces a cutoff from a primary source.

The Bush administration answers released yesterday appear to clarify that the United States would not support any Indian efforts to acquire nuclear fuel if New Delhi ordered a nuclear test.

"The fuel supply assurances are not, however, meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test or a violation of nonproliferation commitments," the document says.

Furthermore, the answers indicate that the Bush administration has no plans to help India develop sensitive nuclear fuel production technologies, such as uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing facilities, even though the U.S.-Indian deal text specifically allows for the possibility.  Such fuel production plants could produce materials for nuclear weapons.

"The U.S. government will not assist India in the design, construction or operation of sensitive nuclear technologies through the transfer of dual-use items," the document says.

This U.S. view could very well be at odds with India's understanding of the deal, nuclear nonproliferation specialist Sharon Squassoni said yesterday.

"It's doubtful that the Indian government agrees with that interpretation," she told reporters at an ACA event.

The possible disagreement could delay the resumption of nuclear trade to India, halted after New Delhi tested its first nuclear device in 1974.

"There still exists a gap in the expectations and interpretations of this deal, both from the Indian side and the U.S. side," said, Squassoni, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  "One of the useful activities that the NSG can take up is to clarify what the Indians really do expect and nail down some of these things so that nuclear cooperation, if it does happen, can go forward in a stable and reasonable way."

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