India is free to pursue its strategic nuclear programme, but the US has the room to terminate its nuclear deal with India if the country carries out another nuclear test, according to the agreement for civil nuclear energy cooperation between the two countries that was released on Friday.
The 22-page text of the so called 123 agreement says that each government “shall implement this Agreement in accordance with its respective applicable treaties, national laws, regulations, and licence requirements concerning the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”.
“What this really means,” said P.R. Chari, a security issues expert at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, a New Delhi-based think tank, “is that the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and the Hyde Act of 2006 will continue to apply. So, in effect, India goes back to its pre-May 1998 position, before it conducted its second nuclear test... If India conducts another test, the deal will be off.”
Key Provisions of the 123 Agreement (Graphic)
India: Nuclear Facts (Graphic)
Brahma Chellaney, a strategic affairs analyst and professor at the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank, said that the agreement sheds light on the “conditionalities India has been made to accept”. “It is going to become highly controversial in Parliament and outside,” he added.
However, C.N.R. Rao, chairman, Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, and a member of the negotiating team, said that India has a good deal in its hands. “I have not read the complete text of the agreement yet, but I believe India can develop enough capabilities...to efficiently utilize the procured fuel to...meet its power needs,” he added.
The agreement allows for transfer of technology for reprocessing nuclear fuel, subject to India being able to meet the conditions listed in the Hyde Act, including not testing a nuclear device and stopping production of fissile material.
Abhishek Singhvi, a spokesperson for the Congress party, hailed the agreement as a historic deal and said that while the US wanted to turn a previous unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing announced by India into a binding legal commitment, the Indian negotiators had thwarted this.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has said that it will put out its detailed response on Saturday. However, Yashwant Sinha, a vice-president of the party, said that the agreement had “a lot of unenforceable commitments from the US in lieu of enforceable commitments from India.”
The US will also help India in developing strategic reserves of nuclear fuel toguard against any disruption of supply.
R. Nicholas Burns, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, denied in Washington that the US would be under any obligation to help India find alternative sources of fuel if the deal were to be called off.
The Left parties refrained from commenting on the deal before studying it thoroughly.
The 123 agreement needs approval of the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, before it goes to the US Congress for final ratification, sometime by the end of the year or early 2008.
(Jacob Koshy of Mint, and PTI also contributed to this story.)