Siddharth Varadarajan

"Don't compare us with Pyongyang"

  • Test violates international commitments
  • It jeopardises peace, stability, security in the region

    On board Air-India One:Anxious to avoid any possible comparison between North Korea and India as two nuclear-armed countries outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) system, New Delhi on Monday officially accused Pyongyang of violating its "international commitments" and "jeopardising peace, stability and security on the Korean peninsula and in the region" by testing a nuclear weapon.

    In a brief statement, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesman also said the test "highlights the danger of clandestine proliferation," an implicit reference to the nuclear links which have existed in the past between North Korea and Pakistan.

    Challenge for diplomacy

    Though the North Korean test with its dramatic implications for international security is likely to top the agenda during Manmohan Singh's meetings in London and Helsinki this week, some indication of the challenge it poses for Indian diplomacy was provided by the reluctance of the Prime Minister's advisers to elaborate on New Delhi's perspective on the record. Though unstated, the concern is that debate within the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group on allowing nuclear commerce with India could now become much more contentious.

    North Korea formally withdrew from the NPT in 2003 and is under no legal obligation to forswear nuclear weapons. As per the procedure specified in Article X of the NPT, a state-party can renounce the treaty if "extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this treaty, have jeopardised the supreme interests of the country." The only requirement is that the country give notice to other member states and the U.N. Security Council three months in advance and include a statement "of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardised its supreme interests."

    North Korea did this in 1993, only to suspend its withdrawal when the United States entered into an agreement for nuclear cooperation with it soon thereafter. That agreement was terminated in 2002 and in January 2003, Pyongyang declared it was no longer a party to the NPT.

    Safeguards obligations

    Asked by reporters on board the Prime Minister's special plane which "international obligations" North Korea had violated by testing, senior officials speaking on background claimed the question of North Korea's membership of the NPT was not yet settled and that the test, in any case, violated the country's safeguards obligations with the International Atomic Energy Agency. They said North Korea signed an "in perpetuity" safeguards agreement, and this barred them from using any safeguarded material or facilities for a non-peaceful purpose.

    The officials said they would rather not get into the question of what India's stand would be if North Korea said its weapon had been assembled from unsafeguarded material. "In any case, the North Korean test has happened not because they are outside or inside the treaty but because of clandestine proliferation," an official said.

    "India separate, distinct"

    Indian officials insist Pyongyang's legal or political status could not be compared to India's position as a country outside the NPT. India, the officials said, had never violated its safeguards agreements. "Please don't lump us with North Korea. India has been transparent, clear. We are separate, distinct. It is ridiculous to compare us to them," a senior official said.

    The officials said the "politics" of the test would take a few days to play out, and that India was in close touch with other countries. Views have already been exchanged with China, South Korea and Japan, all of whom condemned North Korea. Everyone's concerns were that the "secondary effects" of the nuclear explosion be "contained."

    Acknowledging that shifts in U.S. policy towards North Korea probably played a role in Pyongyang's decision, the officials said that ultimately, blame must lie with the country which tested. The officials also expressed concern about what the reaction in Japan is likely to be.

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