India Intelligence Report

   Senate Panel Passes Nuke Deal



  • Senate panel endorses deal with large majority

  • Caveats added—testing ban, limiting uranium enrichment may be problematic for India to accept. NSG consensus requirement may be problematic

  • Support bipartisan, beyond White House, de-linking Pakistan, positive

In a major boost to the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) also passed the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal with an overwhelming majority but with riders that may not be palatable to Indian strategists. The US Congress International Relations Committee (HIRC) also passed the bill by a large majority. The pass of the bill in panels of both houses has raised expectations that the US Congress will pass the bill by August.

The Senate Panel included the following caveats:

  • The deal will be void the deal if India should conduct a nuclear test, export nuclear weapons or materials, or break its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the United States. Many in India will have serious reservations on the testing ban while the US itself has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). While India was willing to reiterate its unilateral moratorium on conducting any further nuclear explosive tests, it was opposed to the insertion of a no-test condition.

  • “Decisions in the Nuclear Suppliers' Group enabling nuclear trade with India are made by consensus and consistent with its rules. Our aim is to guarantee that this multilateral organization will continue to play a vital role in global non-proliferation efforts.'' This could become a problem because there are {hardliners inside the NSG who oppose this deal  on pure theoretical and philosophical grounds.

  • It supports the timely consideration of nuclear export applications, but prohibits the export of equipment, material or technology related to the enrichment of uranium, the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, or the production of heavy water. This could be a setback to India which has already mastered the full nuclear development cycle and needs the deal only to gain access to uranium.

  • Creation of a system to ensure that “no items exported to India are diverted to any uses that are not peaceful.”

  • Recognizing that the modifications would require renegotiations of the deal with India, the US Administration had earlier asked Congress to accept the deal as is. However, there has been intense criticism in the Congress on the text and concerns regarding testing and proliferation. The House version had an unreasonable demand for India to help the US contain Iran.

    A State Department spokesperson said “What we've seen is a strong and positive reception to date. Both committees have worked hard on this legislation and we certainly appreciate that and value the partnership and cooperation that we've enjoyed with them so far.” He said that the legislation “has to go through some more work but we are confident that (it) will be a cooperative and a good process and it will end up with something that everybody can support and that serves the interests if the United States and our strong partner India.”

    Strong demands from Congressional representatives had caused the US Administration to send out feelers to India about modifications in its deal. It has also started working on the nitty-gritty  with India on the expectation of a Congressional approval. The Bush Administration has also done some serious heavy lifting in support of the deal with the Nuclear Supplier Group, allies, and the Congress. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Chief El Baradei had also communicated extensively in support of the deal.

    Chairman of the SFRC Senator Richard Lugar said that the civilian nuclear energy deal between India and the U.S. was the “most important strategic initiative” undertaken by the Bush administration. Lugar also complimented the Bush Administration saying that by concluding this pact and the far-reaching set of cooperative agreements that accompanied it, US President George Bush “embraced a long-term outlook” that sought to enhance the core strength of the country's foreign policy in a way that would give it “new diplomatic options and improve global stability.” However, he wanted to make sure that this treaty does not “undercut” the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the hope that the “agreement can be a lasting incentive for India to abstain from further nuclear weapons tests and to cooperate closely with the United States in stopping proliferation.”

    Predictably, after a year of signing the deal, the communists have for all the wrong things such as ratification of the bill in the Parliament, roll back of the deal, a debate in the Parliament, etc. The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has also shown remarkable short-sightedness in demanding wrong things and even threats that they may not accept the treaty if they come to power. However, senior officials say the Government is determined not to allow the deal to become an "albatross" around the neck of the country's foreign policy. An unnamed Indian official said “There is a reference to isolating Iran, joining the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Australia group, Wassenaar agreement. None of this is in the operational part of the Bill, but the language used for these add-ons is just not acceptable.” If not for anything “it cannot be sustained domestically given the nature of our political system.” Regardless of political differences, there is political consensus in India that it cannot be pushed into accepting a deal that contains references that could destroy age-old ties and permanently damage social, cultural, and economic interests.

    Despite the underlying suspicion on the amendments to the deal by both panels, the overwhelming, and bipartisan nature of the support for the deal proves that the changing perception of India extends beyond the White House. While Indian strategists would frown on the test ban and also on the demeaning text seeking a Presidential attestation that India is meeting its obligations, it was refreshing to note that overall, there was willingness to respect India’s sovereignty. Many amendments requiring India to offer more than it had already committed were defeated handsomely. Another important perspective is the de-linking of Pakistan, despite vocal and strong protests from Islamabad, from India policy in Washington. The new legislation will also remove prohibition on cooperating with India imposed after its 1998 nuclear tests.