"Reference to Indian nuclear test unacceptable"

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: Senior officials told The Hindu that India was prepared to undertake never to detonate a nuclear weapon using U.S.-supplied materials or technology but could not accept a general reference to its unilateral, voluntary moratorium in a bilateral agreement. The American proposal to replace an explicit reference to a nuclear test with language terminating cooperation if an event occurs that "jeopardises supreme U.S. national interests" is being seen by Indian officials as something even more dangerous. "Tomorrow, somebody in Washington may say the arrival in an Indian port of a tanker carrying Iranian LNG jeopardises U.S. national interests," said one official. "That is why none of these references are acceptable to us".

On nuclear fuel assurances, India wants the 123 agreement to explicitly provide a legal guarantee of uninterrupted supplies for up to 40 years, or the operating life of a reactor, rather than one extra "core" that the U.S. side says would be consistent with the Hyde Act.

"We are insisting that the triangular arrangement we reached in March 2006 be respected, in which India agreed to place its reactors under safeguards in perpetuity in exchange for lifetime fuel guarantees," said an official. "In March, they agreed these two assurances were interlocking that if fuel supplies are denied, we reserve the right to take measures in our national interest. But now they want to walk away."

On the right to reprocess spent fuel, the U.S. side earlier suggested it might be willing to build into the 123 agreement the explicit permissions mandated by the Atomic Energy Act. But indications from Washington now are that U.S. negotiators want to leave the reprocessing issue to a subsequent agreement, even though the Hyde Act does not explicitly prohibit the granting of reprocessing rights to India. This, say Indian officials, is a strategy fraught with danger given the experience of Tarapur, where India has been unable to reprocess to the U.S. the spent fuel that has accumulated over the lifetime of the U.S.-supplied reactor.

The Indian side is puzzled by the American refusal to clarify so far the reference made to "42 USC 2153" in the Hyde Act whenever Article 123 of the Atomic Energy Act is mentioned. In the printed version of the AEA, there are several U.S. code numbers listed after Article 123 but 2153 does not figure. The Indian side wanted to know whether this was also a typographical error. But so far no answer has been provided.

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