India Intelligence Report

   US Panel Passes Nuke Deal With Caveats



  • US Congress International Relations Committee approved Indo-US civilian Nuclear deal 37-5

  • Several amendments were added that may be rejected by US Administration and India

  • Senate to discuss later this week

The 50-member US Congress International Relations Committee (HIRC) approved 37-5 the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal to exempt India from the U.S. laws that restrict nuclear trade with countries that have not submitted themselves to full nuclear inspections. The HIRC considered House Resolution (HR) 5682, a modified version of HR 4794, that will exempt certain requirements of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to facilitate closer cooperation with India.

The supporters of the deal also fought off some crucial amendments that could have essentially made it more dead on arrival than it already is. An amendment offered by a California lawmaker, that sought to add language in the Bill in effect asking India sign the NPT, was defeated 36-4. Another amendment seeking to place limitations on nuclear transfers unless a presidential determination has been made regarding India's adherence to a unilateral moratorium on production of fissile material was also defeated 31-12.

This approval did not happen by itself. US President George W Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns met several Congressmen and Senators yesterday in a last-minute lobbying effort to impress upon them the importance of passing the legislation concerning the civil nuclear deal with India. A White House spokesman said “President Bush considers the passage of the legislation concerning the nuclear deal a top priority and wants both Houses of Congress to act on it affirmatively.”

HIRC Chairman Congressman Henry Hyde characterized the Administration’s original HR 4794 bill as “profoundly unsatisfactory” and helped draft a new bill, HR 5682 with several significant changes. Hyde said that the original bill gave itself sweeping powers and “In effect Congress was being asked to remove itself from the process and abandon its constitutional role.”

The long process includes “markups” or amendments being approved by the broader house through a vote and then merging them with a parallel draft from the Senate with a similar process of amendments and voting. The amended bill was introduced by Hyde, committee co-chairman California Democrat Tom Lantos, Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, New York Democrat Gary Ackerman, Indiana Republican Dan Burton, South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson, American Samoa Delegate Eni Faleomavaega, New York Democrat Eliot Engel, New York Democrat Joseph Crowley, and North Carolina Democrat Bob Etheridge.

The new draft requires the following:

  1. 1. Inspired by Lantos, an extremist politician, the new bill includes a provision that the US “secure India's full and active participation in United States efforts to dissuade, isolate, and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear weapons capability (including the capability to enrich or process nuclear materials), and the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction.” While India believes that Iran must abide by its international commitments, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the new text in the bill will be completely unacceptable to India. Both domestically and internationally, New Delhi does not want to be seen as a satellite, client, or subservient state of the US. Besides, while there is circumstantial evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, there is very little evidence that can show that it does.

2. The bill wants the Administration to secure India’s full participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The concept of PSI is to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) through any means possible. This initiative would require India to participate in military operations, board ships, and seize materials sometimes at variance with international laws. The loosely worded doctrine can be interpreted in multiple different ways and analysts think that the nation may be coerced into actions that it does not necessarily want to engage. Hence, unless there is a further refinement of wording and a veto or exclusion clause, it is highly unlikely that India will be part of this initiative.

3. The nuclear deal is also now dependent on a certification regime from the US President that:

a. India has provided the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency with a “credible plan to separate civil and military nuclear facilities, materials, and programs, and has filed a declaration regarding its civil facilities with the IAEA

b. India and the IAEA have concluded an agreement requiring the application of IAEA safeguards in perpetuity in accordance with IAEA standards, principles, and practices

c. India and the IAEA are making substantial progress toward concluding an Additional Protocol consistent with IAEA principles, practices, and policies that would apply to India's civil nuclear program

d. India is working actively with the United States for the early conclusion of a multilateral Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty

Most analysts believe that India will not have a problem with any of these stipulations. The only discordant element is the “certification” aspect since there are no parameters defined on how the US President will certify India’s adherence to these stipulations. India is already working on such a deal with the IAEA and is also developing these parameters with the US Administration in parallel.

4. HIRC’s draft also stipulates a termination of the deal if India makes:

a. Materially significant transfer of nuclear or nuclear-related material, equipment, or technology that does not conform to NSG guidelines;

b.Ballistic missiles or missile-related equipment or technology that does not conform to MTCR guidelines, unless the president determines that cessation of such exports would be seriously prejudicial to the achievement of United States nonproliferation objectives or otherwise jeopardize the common defense and security.  

India would not have any trouble with the 1st part as it does have a stellar non-proliferation record. However, the 2nd part is confusing in what it expects from India. It is not clear if the intention is to cap Indian missile program or to contain the development. Either way, the Indian establishment will have a lot of trouble convincing strategic thinkers on accepting this restriction. India developed its nuclear weapons program outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has refused to sign it, and will continue with that line with the current text in perpetuity.

5. The Bill restricts the Administration saying "no item subject to such agreement or subject to the transfer guidelines of the NSG [Nuclear Suppliers Group] may be transferred to India if such transfer would violate the NSG's transfer guidelines as in effect on the date of the transfer."

The fact that the deal was passed by the HIRC is a significant victory noting the change in the mindset of policy makers in the two nations. However, the victory may turn up more as a vote of confidence in relationship than any significant surge in Indo-US relations as the amendments will no doubt be rejected by India.

Besides, while most members of HIRC supported the bill, there were some notable dissensions. Republican Rep. Jim Leach called it a "sad day" in the history of non-proliferation saying that it “knifed” the NPT. Passage of the Bush administration plan, he said, would open the door for "a whole host" of countries to press claims for similar nuclear cooperation. However, this is old school thinking, disconnected from reality, and rooted to perpetuating the lopsided status quo. Democratic Rep Joe Crowley rightly countered saying "This is not about nuclear weapons as much as it is about finding alternatives to fossil fuels and the tremendous energy needs that a country like India has." During the debate, supporters of the agreement described it as an "unmistakable gain" for non-proliferation.

Indian officials say that this formulation will only bind the US as India is only bound by the commitment contained in the July 18, 2005 joint statement that New Delhi will continue its moratorium on nuclear testing. However, they concede that India is not comfortable with the draft text but say that operative amendments to US laws allowing civilian nuclear cooperation are more important. They also say that that there could be more amendments to the draft Bill and if the bill fails to clear Congress, there will be “implications” for bilateral relations.

A similar markup of the bill by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), chaired by Mr. Richard Lugar and Delaware Democratic Senator Joe Biden, had been originally scheduled on June 28 but has now been rescheduled for June 29.