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India rejects US condition

New Delhi, April 17: India today said it would not accept the US proposal requiring Delhi to give up the option of a nuclear test, but iterated its commitment to the unilateral moratorium on testing it has been following.

Responding to a report in The Telegraph, the external affairs ministry confirmed that Washington had sent to New Delhi a draft of what is called the “123 agreement” ' named after Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act ' the two countries will sign.

“The US had shared with India some weeks ago a preliminary draft agreement on Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation under Article 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act,” a spokesperson said.

One of the clauses of the 22-page draft, which is in possession of this paper, requires India to commit to forgoing the option to conduct further nuclear tests. If it were to violate this commitment, the Americans would stop civilian nuclear cooperation, which was agreed between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush on July 18, 2005.

India has told the US that these conditions are not acceptable, the spokesperson said. “In preliminary discussions on these elements, India has already conveyed to the US that such a provision has no place in the proposed bilateral agreement and that India is bound only by what is contained in the July 18 joint statement, that is continuing its commitment to a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing,” the ministry said.

It was reported in this paper yesterday that the bilateral agreement was in addition to Washington’s attempt in the US Congress to impose the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on India through the backdoor.

The bill that is now before the US Congress contains the no-testing clause for India. The legislation will amend the US Atomic Energy Act, which is necessary for Washington to be able to implement the nuclear cooperation deal with India.

The external affairs ministry has reaffirmed India’s position that it would sign the CTBT only if the treaty was made universal and all its signatories destroyed their nuclear arsenal. India’s refusal to sign the CTBT is making the passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal through Congress tough.

Now, its refusal to agree to the no-testing clause in the bilateral agreement will make it even more difficult for the Bush administration to get Congress to clear the amendment.

By making the no-testing clause a part of the amendment bill, the administration has already in a way committed India’s acceptance of it to Congress. With Delhi now declining the proposal, the draft agreement will enter a phase of hard negotiation.

Voices from the US have been causing discomfort in New Delhi. Foreign secretary Shyam Saran has said India will not accept any new conditions.

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