It may be recalled that in the run-up to signing of the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, it was presented by the Indian sarkari media as the best deal which could have been secured for India by any government, whereas many analysts including this paper consistently held the view that firstly for opening India for nuclear trade 123 type umbrella agreements were not necessary; and, secondly the text of the Indo-US 123 agreement as negotiated by the Manmohan Singh government was unequal and tilted against India; that much better terms could and should have been secured, and; that it was more targeted to seek nasbandi of India’s nuclear weapon programme than exporting US civilian nuclear reactors to India.
The myth of ‘best terms’ created by sarkari media about the India-US N-deal got shattered in Moscow and the cat was out of bag when reports appeared in the press that during Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow [December 6 to 8, 2009] for the Annual Summit meeting with the Russian President Mr. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia has signed much better terms for exporting Russian nuclear reactors for civilian use. According to media reports, Russia has agreed [i] to let India reprocess spent uranium fuel supplied by Russia, [ii] to keep supplying enriched uranium till life span of reactors imported from Russia, and, [iii] transfer of related enrichment and reprocessing technology. The better terms have been offered by Russia not for love of India but for the love of more business.
If the media reports are true, Russia has definitely offered better terms as under the existing Indo-US 123 agreement, US shall not only stop supplying uranium to US reactors in India in wake of nuclear explosion by India but can also terminate the agreement, dismantle supplied ones and demand return thereof. The existing Indo-US agreement does not automatically allow India to reprocess US supplied uranium nor authorise India to import enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water technology and equipment from the USA. Reprocessing and supply of nuclear sensitive US technology and equipment to India can start only after the existing Indo-US N-agreement is amended by the US Congress. Amendment of law by the US Congress takes many months not weeks as is being suggested by UPA circles.
PM visited the US [Organiser, December 6, 2009] but could not secure operationalisation of the Indo-US N-deal. The Press Trust of India in its Washington dateline November 16, 2009, story has reported that in February 2009 the Obama Administration had asked India to give a letter of assurance on nuclear non-proliferation, i.e. assurance to sign NPT, CTBT and FMCT to take forward the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation. It is said that in absence of such a letter of assurance the US Department of Energy will not be able to issue the mandatory licence called Part 810 [part eight ten] to American companies for doing any kind of civilian nuclear trade with India.
As mentioned earlier, the UPA government has been adopting wrong diplomatic strategy of surrendering India’s bargaining chips before commencement of hard negotiations. In nuclear diplomacy rather than continuing with the old policy of going ahead on case-by-case basis import of reactors, the UPA government surrendered most of bargaining chips in form of ‘voluntary’ Separation Plan [March 2006] in pious hope of umbrella agreements with the IAEA and other suppliers. Under the separation plan India has voluntarily offered to place 37 nuclear installations including research centres under permanent IAEA inspection without securing any tangibles. Under this plan 14 Indian reactors will be placed under permanent IAEA inspection by 2014. The IAEA already applies safeguards to six reactors; Units 1 and 2 at Tarapore, units 1 and 2 at RAPS and units 1 and 2 at Kudankulam. Units 3 and 4 of RAPS will go under safeguards in 2010, two units of Kakrapar in 2012 and two units of Narora in 2014.
The best course available for India was and is to work for getting invited to join NPT as a nuclear weapon state so that there was/is no need to sign any special protocol with IAEA and no need of 123 type bilaterals with any country by opening lucrative business in supplying civil nuclear reactors to India only to those countries which support our efforts in this direction to amend NPT as well as our case for permanent membership of expanded UN Security Council. World recession provides a good backdrop for success of such an assertive policy.
The NPT grants Nuclear weapon state [NWS] status to countries that carried out nuclear tests before January 1967 and India should aim at getting this cut off date pushed beyond May 18, 1974 when India carried out Pokhran-I test.
[The writer served as Ambassador/High Commissioner to many countries and belongs to the 1971 batch of the Indian Foreign Service. He can be contacted at www.opgupta.org]