Vienna: An inspections agreement crucial to a landmark nuclear deal between India and the US comes under scrutiny on Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Washington-New Delhi pact calls for allowing the sale of atomic fuel and technology to India, a country that has not signed international nonproliferation accords but has tested nuclear weapons. It would be a reversal of more than three decades of U.S. policy.
To implement the deal, India must strike separate agreements with the IAEA and with the Nuclear Suppliers Group of countries that export nuclear material before it can go to the US Congress for approval.
The so-called safeguards agreement would effectively allow UN monitors access to 14 of India’s 22 existing or planned nuclear reactors by 2014. Without IAEA safeguards, India cannot import nuclear technology from NSG nations, including the US.
The 35-nation IAEA board of governors meeting on Friday is expected to approve it, despite criticism that ambiguous wording in the deal could end up limiting international oversight of India’s reactors, and possibly help supply its arms programs with fissile material.
The chief US envoy to the IAEA said agency monitoring of the Indian facilities would be a “net gain” for global nonproliferation.
“The agreement is a sound one based on the IAEA’s approved safeguards system,” Gregory L. Schulte said.
But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said the deal raises fundamental questions and needs clarification.
“The question is: Can India end safeguards if fuel supplies are interrupted even if they’ve conducted a nuclear test, or does the agreement require permanent, unconditional safeguards?”
Pakistan, India’s neighboring archrival, has been vocal in its opposition to the deal. The two countries have fought three wars since independence in 1947.
In a letter to members of the IAEA board and the NSG, Islamabad warned that the safeguards agreement “threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.”