Negotiations may have gone down to the wire but in the end, New Delhi and Washington did manage to reach agreement on the crucial second stage of their ambitious agreement on nuclear cooperation: the plan by which India is to effect a separation between the military and civilian components of its nuclear programme. While the details will presumably be made public in due course, it is reasonable to assume that the Indian `red lines' publicly spelt out by our nuclear scientists, by the Department of Atomic Energy chairman and, ultimately, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Parliament on February 27 have been accepted by the U.S. side. This means the Indian fast breeder programme will remain outside the purview of safeguards and international inspections, as will around 35 per cent of the country's thermal nuclear power generating capacity. That the Government was able to get the Bush administration to agree that these facilities would remain off the safeguards list owes a lot to the energetic debate that has taken place inside the country for the past seven months. As these columns had flagged at the very outset, implementation of the July 18 agreement hinged crucially on the questions of sequencing, separation and safeguards. On all these issues, the U.S. attempted to shift the goalpost and it did seem, initially, as if the Indian side was being blindsided. Addressing the IDSA last October, for example, the Foreign Secretary declared that "it makes no sense for India to deliberately keep some of its civilian facilities out of its declaration for safeguards purposes." Yet thanks to the public debate, four months on this is precisely what India has done. And the U.S. has been persuaded to accept it.
It appears that the one goalpost shift that the Bush administration was unwilling to reverse was its demand that Indian facilities be safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in perpetuity. None of the facilities placed by "other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the United States" the phrase is from the July 18 agreement are under perpetual IAEA safeguards. All the five official nuclear weapon states have the right to redesignate safeguarded civilian facilities as military should they so desire. As a matter of practical concern, there is no real reason for India ever to want to redesignate its safeguarded facilities since the amount of fissile material produced by the unsafeguarded reactors would more than suffice for any strategic programme based on "minimum deterrence." However, what is at stake is the question of assured fuel supply for the safeguarded reactors as well as the principle of non-discrimination that India appears to be giving up on. At any rate, when it comes to negotiating an Additional Protocol with the IAEA, India will have to insist on the kind of exclusions the U.S. has written into its document so as to protect its proprietary technologies as well as national security. Turning to the political aspects of the agreement, it is important that the nuclear deal not be turned into the basis for effecting a broader strategic alliance between the U.S. and India. Washington needs to make the nuclear deal happen as much as New Delhi does and there is no need for the Manmohan Singh Government to entertain any American suggestions that India can now do without an energy relationship with Iran.