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US Rewards Nuclear Power and Non-NPT Signatory India with Nuclear Deal

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Via Asia Times:

Iran heartened by India’s nuclear vote
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

The United States-India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement has now been officially endorsed by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which paves the way for its approval by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – a collection of nations that monitor sales of civilian nuclear technology – this autumn, irrespective of expressed reservations, if not outright opposition, of some NSG members. They are concerned about the adverse impact of this agreement on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), in light of India’s status as a de facto nuclear weapons state.

The NSG, which is expected to hold its next meeting on August 21 in Vienna, bans trade with states such as India that have not signed the NPT and will need to give India a waiver. The deal then goes before the US Congress for ratification.

The US-India accord is a Cold War-type agreement that has been diligently promoted by its Washington architects in terms of the US’s geostrategic interests, thus raising the ire of both Pakistan and China. Behind the official US justifications of this agreement, the Cold War calculus of regional alignments and bringing New Delhi in closer geopolitical alliance with the US is unmistakable. In turn, this raises serious questions about the near and long-term implications for India’s foreign policy orientation.

At the same time, this agreement, by loosening the US’s own standards on the export of nuclear technology and placing a great deal of faith in the IAEA inspection of India’s nuclear facilities, to ensure the absence of any illicit military diversion, has prompted Tehran to refer to it as reflective of US double standards. This is because of the US’s stubborn rejection of the suggestion that Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle can be effectively monitored, via a set of so-called objective guarantees, thus allowing Iran’s program to continue.

Not only that, this agreement rewards a non-NPT state, ie, India, by giving it unfettered access to cutting-edge US nuclear technology and material, as well as providing for close nuclear research and development, for example in the area of “controlled thermonuclear diffusion”, and yet somehow builds a tall China wall between India’s civil and military nuclear programs, as if they transpire not in a single state but rather in two different universes. That is patently absurd, as any Indian nuclear scientist benefiting from the advancement in the civilian sector can be easily shifted to the military sector.

Setting a new precedent, this agreement is bound to be duplicated as other nuclear supplier states, such as Russia, France and China, may follow in the US’s footsteps. Already there are talks of a similar China-Pakistan agreement, not to mention Israel’s ability to pursue a similar agreement with the US or other countries, irrespective of the fact that Israel is also not a signatory to the NPT and has reportedly built up a formidable nuclear arsenal consisting of some 200 nuclear bombs.

Unfortunately, the IAEA, which has praised this agreement that clearly enhances the atomic agency’s role and influence by deepening its reach to aspects of India’s nuclear program, is blind to the down sides of this accord and the anarchy it introduces into the realm of NSG criteria, and the doors it opens for other powers to copy it.

With respect to Iran, the US-India nuclear agreement represents a timely diplomatic boon for Tehran, which can now point at the US’s flexible application of its own nuclear policies as a reference point in Tehran’s nuclear negotiations. Indeed, if the White House is determined to get this agreement passed by the US Congress by, among others, relying on the IAEA’s role in inspecting India’s facilities, why can’t the same logic hold for Iran, which has been cooperative with the IAEA since 2003?

There are serious dissimilarities between India and Iran. For one thing, unlike India, which has 14 nuclear reactors and some nine more under construction, Iran has only one reactor, the one in Bushehr, which is now nine years behind schedule for its completion by Russian contractors.

Also, Iran is one of the original signatories of the NPT and has always formally abided by the NPT’s articles, even though in practice it fell short at times, although the scope of its corrective steps in the past few years has brought Iran up to standards within the NPT regime. As a result, Iran has more of a legal case for seeking nuclear assistance from other countries, pursuant to the NPT articles, than India, which apparently is now interested in using its agreement with the US for de facto or de jure recognition as a NPT nuclear weapons state. There are important similarities between India and Iran, such as with respect to the nuclear fuel programs of the countries, cited above, that warrant a limited comparison by the US and the other participants of the “Iran Six” currently negotiating with Iran – Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany.

However, assuming that the US-India agreement proves only the first of its kind, thus setting into motion a new dynamic that will fuel nuclear proliferation in various parts of the world, including Asia and the Middle East, it is a safe bet that its net impact will be to strengthen Iran’s latent nuclear proliferation tendency, by introducing new heat on it to play catch-up.

That tendency is being kept in check by the combined force of Iran’s ideological aversion toward nuclear weapons and its stated hope to build up the momentum for regional non-proliferation and global disarmament. But a serious setback to both objectives, nested in the US-India nuclear pact, may tilt Iran away from its stated nuclear policies and intentions in the face of unpleasant realities, for example, the acceleration of Pakistan’s nuclear program to offset any undue imbalance in India’s favor as a direct result of New Delhi’s historic deal with Washington.

Much depends on India’s leaders, who have proven independent and vocal in the failed Doha rounds on international trade, as well as in the Non-Aligned Movement. They may want to enhance their independent image by going ahead with the India-Pakistan-Iran pipeline that is opposed by the US. Such balancing acts on the part of Delhi are critical for India’s self-image and national identity, presently marred by the emerging image of India as the US’s junior partner in Asia.

Fortunately, India does not fully operate as the US wishes and is unlikely to fulfill the new role discretely assigned to it by the direct implications of the nuclear agreement, such as acting as a counterweight to China or even Russia, in light of improved India-China relations. Pursuing multiple win-win scenarios that partially collide, India seeks its own aggrandizement and, quite simply, this may thwart rather than enhance the US’s geostrategic interests in Asia in the long run. No wonder the political realists in Washington, as opposed to the neo-conservatives who cherish this agreement as one of their legacies during the George W Bush administration, are not all in favor of this agreement and may succeed in scuttling it in Congress.

Irrespective of whether or not the US-India agreement is finally adopted by the US government, in terms of its multiple, multifaceted and even contradictory implications on the issues of global (non) proliferation, it is already clear that Iran has benefited from this agreement’s content, by providing Tehran’s negotiators with yet another case of US hypocrisy and double standards.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of “Negotiating Iran’s Nuclear Populism”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote “Keeping Iran’s nuclear potential latent”, Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction. For his Wikipedia entry, click here.

Irancove @ August 5, 2008

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