Washington/Vienna: The US and India sought to play down the fallout of a US government document released on the eve of the meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that says the country will stop supplies of nuclear fuel to India if it tests a nuclear weapon.
This is at odds with India’s own understanding of its civilian nuclear agreement with the US. The controversial disclosure could delay, or even prevent India’s entry into the exclusive and highly restricted market for nuclear fuel and technology, and make things difficult at home for a government that is battling inflation, floods in Bihar, and sectarian violence in Orissa.
“I have read the (US) statement, but I will not comment,” said Union external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee.
US ambassador to IndiaDavid C. Mulford said the letter “contains no new conditions and there is no data in this letter which has not already been shared in an open and transparent way with members of the (US) Congress and with the Government of India”.
NSG, a group of countries with nuclear fuel and technology, meets in Vienna on Thursday to ratify the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Deal. A clearance from the group will allow India to source nuclear fuel and technology from its member countries.
The document was released by Howard Berman, an opponent of the Indo-US deal and chairman of the house foreign affairs committee. The document contains responses made to 45 questions on the deal posed by Berman’s predecessor Tom Lantos in October 2007. The answers were given on 16 January, but the document containing them was kept under wraps at the request of the state department.
The communist parties and the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party slammed the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government after the disclosure, accusing it of “misleading the nation”.
“The government should suspend all further moves to operationalize the anti-national nuclear deal,” said a statement from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is part of the four-party Left Front that withdrew support to the UPA government over the nuclear deal. Subsequently, the government won a trust vote in Parliament on 22 July.
The Congress party chose to play down the disclosures on the deal as “internal communication” between the US administration and the country’s legislature. NSG members such as Ireland and New Zealand, which have a strong anti-proliferation agenda, could approve the Indo-US deal with similar conditions linking supplies of fuel and technology to India not testing a nuclear weapon.
In its response to Lantos, the state department said the US assurances are intended to guard against disruptions of fuel supply to India that might occur through a trade war, market disruptions, or the failure of a company to fulfil a fuel supply contract.
“The fuel supply assurances are not, however, meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test, or a violation of non-proliferation commitments,” the state department said.