The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bomb that ticks on N-deal
- Real issue: production of weapons-grade material

Washington, Feb. 11: The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the country’s nuclear establishment are shadow-boxing over the separation of civilian and military nuclear facilities as part of the deal with the US.

The real issue on which the July 18 agreement between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush may come unstuck is continued production of fissile material by India for use in nuclear weapons.

The White House agreement commits India to “working with the US for the conclusion of a multilateral Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty” (FMCT).

But the Bush administration did not envisage in July that a mere commitment by the two countries to work towards an eventual FMCT would be inadequate to satisfy America’s powerful non-proliferation lobby and countries in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which are sceptical of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

When the 45-member NSG, which controls global transfers of nuclear material, met in Washington in October, Canada, Austria, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland criticised the US for pushing India’s case within the nuclear club without obtaining more guarantees from New Delhi on non-proliferation.

According to sources familiar with the proceedings at the NSG meeting, the Canadians held the Americans accountable for not seeking an iron-clad guarantee from the Manmohan Singh government that it would cease producing more fissile material for nuclear weapons, pending the multilateral negotiations on an FMCT.

The Bush administration was in a quandary because it has already stopped producing new fissile material.

Among the five nuclear powers recognised under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), Russia, France and the UK have also agreed to cap fissile material production.

Only China, defying international calls to stop fissile material output, has failed to do so.

Since the government of P.V. Narasimha Rao was asked by the US administration headed by the present President Bush’s father to sign on a moratorium on such production, India has consistently rejected pressure on this account.

India’s consistent view has been that it will not cease producing material for its credible nuclear deterrent until the international community agrees on an FMCT, and at any rate, as long as China continues such production and co-operates with Pakistan’s nuclear establishment.

India’s worries on this account have been enhanced by the latest report of the US state department on “Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Non-proliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments”.

The report says the US “remains concerned about the effectiveness of Chinese nuclear export controls and China’s compliance with its... nuclear non-proliferation commitments”.

Adding to the problems of those negotiating a firm bilateral nuclear agreement ahead of Bush’s visit to India, the US has reasserted, between July and now, its determination to seek a worldwide cap on fissile material production.

Paula A DeSutter, the state department’s pointperson on disarmament, told a conference here in November that “pending the conclusion FMCT, the US has and continues to call on all nuclear weapon states and states not party to the NPT to make a public commitment to not produce fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices”.

She pointed out that “four of the five nuclear weapons states, including of course, the US, already have made such a commitment”.

The leaders of India’s nuclear establishment, such as Anil Kakodkar, secretary of the department of atomic energy, see it coming: a demand that India should cap its fissile material production before the NSG does anything for its civilian nuclear programme.

If they have not discussed it yet in public, it is only because the Indians do not want to be the ones to bring the issue into the public domain.

The nuclear establishment is, however, unanimous that any cap on fissile material production will amount to an end to fine-tuning India’s nuclear arsenal and further weapons development.

What they oppose is a deal with the US, which they view as a phased emasculation of India's nuclear programme, first by putting a large number of nuclear facilities under international safeguards, followed by a ban on material for new or advanced weapons.

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