In farewell statement, Roemer confident of Washington backing New Delhi's quest for ENR technologies

India will have to dig in its heels and gear up for a difficult battle if the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decides to bar transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), according to the former Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) chief, Anil Kakodkar.

“The general impression is that India is a soft state and will put up with everything. We have to dispel this impression. We will have to calibrate our response. If they do not keep their side of the bargain, then we should look at other options,” said the man who was in the thick of things when India inked the bilateral civil nuclear agreements and got an exemption from the NSG, gatekeeper to global civil nuclear commerce.

Clean record

At stake is the issue of India not signing the NPT. In a process that began at G8 conclaves, the latest NSG plenary decided to tighten norms for transfer of ENR technologies by its members to non-NPT signatories, of which India is one.

Dr. Kakodkar also explained why India would have to fight hard to get its point of view accepted. “Strictly speaking, NPT should not come in the way at all because cooperation with India was opened on the basis of its clean track record with respect to non-proliferation. If that was the basis then, that should remain the basis now [also],” he said.

On the other hand, the outgoing U.S. Ambassador, Timothy Roemer, is confident of Washington backing New Delhi's quest for ENR technologies despite the NSG seeking to tighten the transfer guidelines. He referred to his recent visit to Washington and said his impression was that the White House “vehemently” supported clean waiver for India.

“The President firmly supports it, the 1-2-3 Agreement firmly supports the clean waiver, and our law firmly commits us to it. So with India's commitment as they move forward to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) and they work more closely with the U.S. companies, I think you'll see the civilian nuclear agreement hopefully continue to move in a very positive direction in the future,” said Mr. Roemer in his “farewell” address to the media from a corner of the India Gate lawns.

But Dr. Kakodkar differed from Mr. Roemer. Things were moving in a negative direction and India would have to assert itself to ensure that the clean exemption did not get diluted to exclude the transfer of ENR technologies, he said.

“The issue is that the explicit provisions in bilateral agreements are essentially on reactors. They also speak in general in terms of broad-based cooperation. But when it comes to actual specifications, the agreements would have to work around the NSG guidelines on that particular day,” he said.

Way out possible

There could be a way out because Russia several times interpreted the NSG guidelines in its own way when it came to supplying fuel for the Tarapur plant. But Dr. Kakodkar feels that finally it will all depend on “the politics of the day. [Russia has indicated that as things stood, it was prepared to transfer ENR technologies to India].”

Admitting that the situation has “changed a bit,” the former DAE chief said though the issue was moving in a negative direction, the experience was that the issue of ENR technology transfer to India should become relatively easy with time.