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The secret letter and beyond

The secret letter and beyond
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First Published: Thu, Sep 04 2008. 11 13 PM IST

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Updated: Thu, Sep 04 2008. 11 13 PM IST
A“secret” letter on the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement to a deceased US Congressmen, written by a state department official in January, has further inflamed the debate on the deal. The letter was leaked to The Washington Post. It answers a set of 45 questions on the deal raised by the late Tom Lantos, then chairman on the House committee on foreign affairs. It was leaked by his successor, Howard Berman, a known opponent of the deal.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
In our view, what the letter states does not affect India’s core concerns: its ability to carry out nuclear tests in the future, no inspections of its military nuclear facilities and continuous nuclear fuel supply.
It’s important to take note of the US fuel supply guarantees and the circumstances surrounding these assurances. The 123 Agreement (the civilian nuclear agreement) clearly provides for helping India create a strategic fuel reserve. This is a reserve meant for civil nuclear reactors and has nothing to do with the military programme. If India tests a nuclear weapon, the US will cease fuel supply.
These are well-known facts. The letter only reiterates and clarifies them. For example, the Left has routinely argued that the Hyde Act, the legislation enabling nuclear cooperation with India, says one thing and the 123 Agreement another. Question 18 in the letter raises one such apparent inconsistency, between the Hyde Act preventing the transfer of nuclear equipment, materials and technology and the cooperation outlined in the 123 Agreement. The answer clearly states there is no inconsistency.
The fact of the matter is that it’s difficult to instantly undo a technology denial system that has been put in place against India since the first Pokhran tests in 1974. The 123 Agreement clearly provides for scientific and technological training of Indian engineers and scientists in nuclear sciences. This has been the most pernicious part of things denied to India. Over a period of time, such effects will be undone. Technology, too, will flow in. This takes time and to expect this to happen overnight is to live a fool’s dream.
Then why harp on India’s “inability” to test nuclear weapons? There is no explicit (or, for that matter, implicit) bar on India carrying out such tests. The pressure against this is likely to be political. The BJP’s reaction seems to convey that it will not be able to resist such pressure in case it comes to power and decides to test. Its vehement reaction shows its weakness, and not that of India.
Have political parties overreacted to the letter? Write to us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Sep 04 2008. 11 13 PM IST
More Topics: Ourviews | 123 Agreement | Hyde Act | Views | OurView |