The United States and India have reached an agreement, pending congressional approval, on a nuclear cooperation treaty that would give India access to substantial US nuclear aid and technology. At a July 27 press conference, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns described the accord as “the single most important initiative that India and the United States have agreed to in the last 60 years of our relationship.”
The pact, also known as the “The 123 Agreement,” is unique in the scope of nuclear aid and cooperation it offers to India. Consequently, the pact has sparked controversy among some observers and US lawmakers who claim that it undermines some tenants of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Burns confirmed the exclusive incentives offered to India.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: “…I don’t think there’s any other country out there who could be brought — who’s not in the NSG who could be brought into the NSG at this point and given the type of treatment that we hope India will be given.”
Burns also took the opportunity to address US concerns regarding the Iranian nuclear energy program.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The agreement also sends an important message to nuclear outlaw regimes such as Iran. It sends a message that if you behave responsibly in regards to nonproliferation and you play by the rules, you will not be penalized, but will be invited to participate more fully in international nuclear trade. India has not proliferated, unlike North Korea in the past. India is willing to subject itself to full IAEA safeguards, unlike Iran today. And India has not violated its nuclear obligations, as Iran has and continues to do.
There are currently 189 signatories of the NPT. Four states—Pakistan, Israel, India and North Korea (which ratified it but later withdrew)—are not members of the NPT. Critics of the nuclear deal, like Reps Ed Markey (D-MA) and Fred Upton (R-MI), contend that, contrary to Burns’ statement, nuclear cooperation with India—which is not a member of the NPT and not subject to IAEA inspections—weakens the NPT. Markey and Upton have introduced a bipartisan resolution to block nuclear cooperation with India.
“This Administration’s move to launch nuclear cooperation with India has grave security implications for South Asia and the entire world. Supplying nuclear fuel to countries that are not party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) derails the delicate balance that has been established between nuclear nations and limits our capacity to insist that other nations continue to follow this important nonproliferation policy,” said Rep. Markey. “We cannot break the nuclear rules established in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and demand that everyone else play by them.”
The Council on Foreign Relations points out that other powers, like Russia and China, may make similar deals with states not aligned with US interests.
Albright says that without additional measures to ensure a real barrier exists between India’s military and civilian nuclear programs, the agreement “could pose serious risks to the security of the United States” by potentially allowing Indian companies to proliferate banned nuclear technology around the world. In addition, it could lead other suppliers—including Russia and China—to bend the international rules so they can sell their own nuclear technology to other countries, some of them hostile to the United States.
In the near term, it will make it more difficult to deal with proliferation challenges such as Iran. Already the Iranians are winning support internationally by asking why they, as an NPT party, should give up their right to an enrichment capability while India, which rejected the NPT, is being offered nuclear cooperation. In general, the deal conveys the message that the United States – the country the world has always looked to as the leader in the fight against proliferation – is now giving nonproliferation a back seat to other foreign policy goals. And this will give others a green light to assign a higher priority to commercial and political considerations relative to nonproliferation.
Burns mentioned Iran several times in his address.
QUESTION: Could you just explain in kind of layman’s terms how this strengthens the nonproliferation regime because this really has only to do with civil nuclear power, not to do with the kind of issue of India as a nuclear — as a nuclear — military nuclear power?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, the United States is a strong supporter of the Nonproliferation Treaty and of the international nonproliferation regime, the agreements that make up that regime. And, you know, it’s — as you know, there are a lot of inconsistencies that have now developed in that regime. You have countries inside the regime, like Iran, that are cheating. They have been cheating for the better part of the last 20 years.
In the case of Iran, they withheld information from the IAEA for 18 years. In the case of Iran, they haven’t — if you look at Mohamed ElBaradei’s report to the Security Council of May 24th, they haven’t answered major questions about what they’re doing at Natanz, what they’re doing with the Arak heavy reactor. So you’ve got this inconsistency of some countries inside cheating and of soon-to-be the largest country in the world, one of the largest energy consumers in the world — India –on the outside, but not cheating.
The IAEA has found no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. In addition, Iran has agreed to a series of voluntary protocols that are not a part of its obligations under the NPT. The IAEA recently announced a visit to the Arak heavy reactor scheduled for early next week.
According to Under Secretary Burns, India—which obtained nuclear weapons outside of the NPT—has committed only 14 of its 22 civilian nuclear power plants under international safeguards. In accordance with US laws aimed at isolating Iran, the US also imposed sanctions on two Indian firms in September 2004 for sharing nuclear knowledge with Iran.
In September 2004, the US imposed sanctions on Chaudhary Surendar and YSR Prasad, both former chairmen of India’s state-run Nuclear Power Corporation, “for allegedly passing nuclear secrets to Tehran”. Though the sanctions on Dr Surendar were later dropped, they remain in force against Dr Prasad, who is believed to have passed on “the technology needed to extract tritium from heavy-water nuclear reactors”.
While Under Secretary Burns maintains that the deal brings India closer to IAEA safeguards, critics of the Hyde Act contend that the separation between civilian and domestic facilities would place a significant portion of the Indian nuclear system outside the realm of inspections.
They noted that the U.S. legislation endorsed India’s plan for separating its civilian from its military nuclear facilities, a plan under which eight Indian nuclear power installations would be outside the purview of International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and free to produce fissile material for up to 50 nuclear weapons a year.  Thus, the general view in Pakistan, in the words of one respected analyst, Talat Masood, was that the American legislation would “make Pakistan much less secure.”
Article VI of The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons states:
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
As the 123-Agreement is debated in Congress this fall, lawmakers will set an important precedent for the future of the NPT and the global nuclear proliferation debate. Watch a summary of Under Secretary Burns’ press conference below. The conference is available in its entirety at the Department of State website.
Update (8-14-07): Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, declared yesterday that under the 123-Agreement, India is free to test nuclear weapons.
Irancove @ August 2, 2007