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Ali Baba makes Bush toe India nuclear line

Washington, Feb. 12: Confronted with Islamabad’s nuclear Ali Baba, President George W. Bush yesterday acknowledged what India has been saying for decades — that the global non-proliferation regime is like a half-cooked meal.

India’s — and Pakistan’s — nuclear tests in 1998 demonstrated that even this inadequate non-proliferation regime is broken. Yesterday, Bush reluctantly acknowledged it in words.

Speaking at the National Defense University here, Bush proposed a seven-point programme to “stop the spread of deadly weapons”. Of his seven proposals, one is of particular interest to India, which went through considerable difficulties at one time to keep its nuclear power plants running.

“The world’s leading nuclear exporters should ensure that states have reliable access at reasonable cost to fuel for civilian reactors, so long as those states renounce enrichment and reprocessing,” Bush said. “The world must create a safe, orderly system to field civilian nuclear plants without adding to the danger of weapons proliferation,” he said, describing the absence of such arrangements in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as “a loophole which has been exploited by nations such as North Korea and Iran”.

For the Third World, as a whole, this is a double-edged sword. Critics of the plan will argue that it discriminates against the right of developing countries to produce their own nuclear fuel and undercuts an NPT commitment by the US and others to support civilian nuclear programmes in countries which renounce atomic weapons.

Bush proposed that by next year, all states should sign an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “additional protocol” as a condition for seeking equipment for their civilian nuclear programmes. The protocol considerably expands IAEA’s ability to detect clandestine nuclear activities.

He called upon the IAEA board of governors to create a special committee on safeguards and verification to improve the organisation’s monitoring and enforcement potential of nuclear non-proliferation obligations of member states. “No state under investigation for proliferation violations should be allowed to serve on the IAEA board of governors — or on the new special committee,” he said.

Bush proposed expanded efforts to secure and destroy nuclear weapons and materials as well as improvements in and modernisation of non-proliferation laws to address new and changing threats.

The Bush speech, touted as a non-proliferation landmark of his administration, is a good augury for India.

Within less than 24 hours of the speech, Mohamed el Baradei, the IAEA’s director-general, wrote on the op-ed page of The New York Times that “we must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security — and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use”.

This has been the core of India’s argument against signing the NPT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and part of its rationale to test nuclear weapons almost six years ago.

“We must also begin to address the root causes of insecurity,” el Baradei wrote. “In areas of long-standing conflict like the Middle East, South Asia and the Korean Peninsula, the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction — while never justified — can be expected as long as we fail to introduce alternatives that redress the security deficit.” He said: “Common sense and recent experience make clear that the NPT, which has served us well since 1970, must be tailored to fit 21st-century realities.”

He called for a revival of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty talks in Geneva, now stalled for eight years, the entry into force of CTBT and for “a clear road map for nuclear disarmament” by the five recognised nuclear weapons states, including the US and Russia.

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