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Mandarins, scientists trade nuke deal blame

Washington, June 30: A ceasefire between India’s scientific community and diplomatic negotiators, painstakingly put together by national security adviser M.K. Narayanan at the time of President George W. Bush’s visit to India, is under strain following attempts in the US legislation to shift the goalposts on the nuclear deal.

Behind closed doors on Raisina Hill, the two sides have started blaming each other for having made India’s nuclear weapons programme vulnerable to this week’s developments on Capitol Hill.

At the heart of the carping is Section 3(b)(1) and (2) of HR 5682, the bill marked up by the House of Representatives International Relations Committee this week for a July vote by the full House.

These portions of the bill under the head “Statements of Policy” call for achieving a “moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear explosive purposes by India, Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China at the earliest possible date”.

They also call for facilitating “at the earliest possible date” the conclusion of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) “to which both the US and India become parties”.

The foreign ministry is putting out the spin that these and similar sections of the bill are not binding, but India’s informed nuclear establishment is finding it hard to swallow.

It has pointed out that while these clauses may be non-binding, Washington is certain to push for a moratorium on fissile material production by Asia’s nuclear powers and for an early FMCT.

Indeed, it is bound to do so because the bill insists that these “shall be the policies of the US”.

The bill, its critics within the Indian establishment point out, has made it US policy that the “US and India become parties” to an FMCT, denying Delhi the option to stay out of the treaty unlike in the instance of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

India’s foreign policy mandarins have reacted with venom to such suggestions, accusing the nuclear establishment of not having produced enough weapons-grade plutonium and stockpiled it while it had the luxury of doing so without any restrictions or external oversight. One senior diplomat went so far as to say that because of this drift, India does not even have a credible minimum nuclear deterrent as of now.

There is considerable anxiety within South Block itself that three new elements have been brought into nuclear negotiations by the US.

Although non-binding at present, the most serious of these is Washington’s determination to see India join its Proliferation Security Initiative. Hypothetically, it could require India, for instance, to interdict and board a Chinese ship carrying missile parts to Pakistan. A potential clash with China at America’s behest is not something anyone in South Block relishes.

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