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Delhi resists fissile treaty
- First snub to US since Iraq thumbs-down

Washington, May 20: India is resisting intense US pressure to come out and openly support the Bush administration’s initiative this week to propose a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).

Sources in South Block told The Telegraph that the government considered issuing a statement in Delhi yesterday, but backed off fearing a domestic political fallout whatever stand it took on the US proposal.

Instead, it asked Jayant Prasad, India’s ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, to declare an Indian position on the issue in the hope that a statement made at a meeting in Geneva will not attract public attention back home.

Prasad’s statement is in one sense historic. For the first time since India’s Parliament unanimously opposed America’s aggressive designs on Iraq, it articulated Delhi’s disagreement with a policy of the Bush administration.

America’s draft FMCT does not include a system to verify the treaty’s compliance by its signatories.

Recently, the Bush administration jettisoned America’s traditional adherence to treaty verification practices and announced that it would not propose any such verification methods for an FMCT.

Prasad said in his statement that any FMCT that goes into effect should “incorporate a verification mechanism” in order to provide the assurance that all states were complying with their obligations.

He added, obviously with Pakistan ' the world’s most notorious blackmarketeer in nuclear material ' at the back of his mind: “Full compliance by all states with their obligations under international instruments” to which they were party was critical to the achievement of the goals envisaged in those instruments.

Notwithstanding this open disagreement with Washington, the Indian statement in Geneva is reminiscent of a street urchin hesitantly and fearfully testifying against a local thug whose crimes the boy was witness to.

Almost apologising for having to disagree publicly with the US, the Indian statement sought refuge in the collective will of the UN General Assembly on this issue.

Prasad told the CD: “The General Assembly had expressed its unanimous conviction that a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices would be a significant contribution to nuclear non-proliferation in all its aspects, and had recommended the negotiation of such a treaty in the most appropriate international forum.”

After Stephen Rademaker, the US assistant secretary of state in charge of international security and non-proliferation, made a lengthy speech at the CD yesterday, Prasad made a second intervention to acknowledge US proposals and expressing hope that they would help the Conference arrive at a consensus.

The Indian dilemma in Geneva is understandable although it need not be acceptable.

White House and US state department officials have told the Indians that a major reason for their tabling the FMCT draft in Geneva at this time was to pacify Senators and members of the House of Representatives who wanted to kill the Indo-US nuclear deal.

A US initiative to secure a globally acceptable FMCT, even if it does not come about, would silence those who accuse the Bush administration of turning its back on non-proliferation and aiding India’s nuclear ambitions instead.

State department spokesman Sean McCormack said soon after the US made public its draft FMCT that “India is one of those countries we hope can come out and support the text that we have laid down.”

But he added: “I don’t think we have a final signal one way or the other on it.”

Prasad said in Geneva that India welcomed the “structured discussion on the issue” of an FMCT, but stopped short of supporting the US draft.

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