The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nuke test ban via backdoor
Nuclear fusion: (Left) Manmohan Singh shakes hands with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov of Russia, which has agreed to supply nuclear fuel, in New Delhi on Friday. (Right) Singh with President George W. Bush after agreeing on a nuclear deal in July 2005. (Reuters)

Washington, March 17: India has undertaken not to test any more nuclear weapons as part of its deal with the Bush administration for access to civilian nuclear technology.

Tantamount to imposing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on India through the backdoor, the contours of such an undertaking by New Delhi is at the heart of legislation moved in the US Congress yesterday to facilitate the nuclear agreement between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

By implication, India will also be required to support Washington’s attempts to kill Iran’s nuclear programme if the July 18, 2005, Indo-US deal is to go through.

Under section (b) clause (5) of the bill presented to Congress yesterday, the President will have to report to the Senate foreign relations committee and the House of Representatives international relations committee that “India is supporting international efforts to prevent the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technology”.

Although couched in general terms of broad principles, this sentence in the bill is euphemism for stopping Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts, at least in the present international context.

Pregnant with implications is also a provision in the bill that requires India to work “with the US for the conclusion of a multilateral Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty”.

A commitment by India to do so was in the joint statement last year after the Prime Minister visited the White House. But when it becomes a legislative condition for the nuclear deal, it could well limit India’s options at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, where the treaty will be negotiated.

If the bill in its present form becomes US law, American legislators could call for an end to the waiver for India from their Atomic Energy Act when the Indian stand in Geneva is at odds with that of Washington.

A waiver is the basis on which the nuclear deal is going through and can be withdrawn if the US President determines that New Delhi is not “working with” Washington on any draft provisions of the treaty.

By far, it is the hidden provision about the CTBT that is likely to become contentious in India as the bill makes its way through the US legislative process. Robert Joseph, the US under-secretary of state for arms control and international security, has already told Richard Lugar, mover of yesterday’s bill in the Senate, in writing that asking India to sign the CTBT or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would be “deal-breakers”.

Joseph told Lugar that a “sound idea” would be to insist on “continuing India’s unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing”, a promise made by the Prime Minister at the White House.

That moratorium is, however, unilateral and voluntary: India could lift it any time and test another nuclear bomb, as many experts in the country’s atomic energy establishment want to do in future for further weapons development.

But when non-testing in perpetuity becomes a condition under US law for Washington’s help ' and that of the Nuclear Suppliers Group ' with civilian nuclear technology, it is tantamount to India agreeing to follow the CTBT and limit further development of its nuclear arsenal.

The Indian government will insist that it has not given any commitment to Washington that it will carry out the objectives of the CTBT without actually signing it.

While that position may be true in letter, in spirit India would have accepted the CTBT with the bill now in Congress that makes the nuclear deal contingent upon no more testing.

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