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Fix the Nuclear Trade Deal with India

A lame duck session is no time to consider the Bush administration's nuclear assistance deal with India. This pact requires more review.

A group of top national security experts fear that the administration will try to use the lame duck session of Congress to push through a turkey of a deal. The group is urging the Senate to fix the nuclear assistance deal President Bush negotiated with India before it does irreparable harm to global efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

The 18 experts, including former assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation Robert Einhorn, Princeton professor Frank von Hippel, retired Army general Robert Gard, and Larry Korb and Joe Cirincione from the Center for American Progress, want the Senate to support amendments that would address serious flaws that still plague the proposed U.S.-Indian nuclear trade legislation (S. 3709), which may be considered this month. They warn that “despite some important adjustments made to the administration’s original proposal by the Foreign Relations Committee, the arrangement would have far-reaching and adverse effects on U.S. nonproliferation and security objectives.”

Specifically, the experts say the legislation must include further improvements in several key areas, among them:

  • A determination, prior to resumption of full nuclear cooperation, that India has stopped the production of fissile material (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) for weapons or else joined a multilateral fissile production cutoff agreement;
  • A determination and annual certification that U.S. civil nuclear trade does not in any way assist or encourage India’s nuclear weapons program;
  • Measures to ensure that the United States does not continue to provide nuclear assistance directly or through other suppliers in the event that India breaks the nonproliferation commitments outlined on July 18, 2005; and
  • A determination that the Government of India or any government-affiliated entities are not engaged in illicit procurement of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons-related items.

“We believe these measures are necessary,” the joint letter concludes, “because India has neither joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty nor accepted safeguards on all of its nuclear facilities, and India’s nonproliferation policy is not fully consistent with the nonproliferation practices and responsibilities expected of the original nuclear-weapon states.”

The key problem is that under the proposed nuclear cooperation deal, India has pledged to accept safeguards at only eight additional “civilian” nuclear facilities by 2014. India has not yet agreed that safeguards on these facilities would be permanent. Current and future military-related nuclear reactors, enrichment and reprocessing facilities, and weapons fabrication facilities would remain without safeguards. Partial International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards would do nothing to prevent the continued production of fissile material for weapons in unsafeguarded facilities. Consequently, foreign supplies of nuclear fuel to India could assist the country’s bomb program by freeing up its existing limited capacity to support the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons.

The experts identify several key problems and remedies. The three most important are:

Fissile Material Production

To help ensure that U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation is not in any way advancing India’s weapons program and is not contributing to nuclear arms competition with Pakistan and China, Congress should require President Bush to determine that India has stopped fissile material production for weapons or has joined a multilateral production ban before the United States resumes full civil nuclear assistance to the country.

If India is truly committed to a “minimal credible deterrent,” then the country should be able to declare as a matter of national policy that it has stopped fissile material production for weapons, or else join the United States, China, France, Pakistan, Russia, and the United Kingdom in a multilateral fissile cutoff agreement, pending the completion of a global, verifiable ban. Congress should direct President Bush to actively pursue the early conclusion of such an interim cutoff agreement with India and other relevant parties, pending the entry into force of a global cut-off treaty.

Nonassistance to India’s Nuclear Weapons Program

The Senate bill should also require that prior to the implementation of a U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement, President Bush make a determination that the proposed U.S. civil nuclear assistance will not, in any way, assist India’s nuclear weapons program. Such a determination should take into account the possible replication and subsequent use of any U.S.-origin technology in an unsafeguarded nuclear facility and the provision of nuclear fuel in such a manner as to facilitate the increased production of highly enriched uranium or plutonium in unsafeguarded nuclear facilities for weapons purposes.

The Senate should also agree to provisions in the House bill (H.R. 5682) requiring annual executive branch reports on whether any such assistance has occurred, and on India’s uranium mining and fissile material production rates, as well as other related matters.

Termination of Trade and Fuel Supply Assurances

India is insisting that the United States help provide an assured nuclear fuel supply, even in the event that the Indian government conducts a nuclear test explosion or otherwise violates the terms of a future agreement for nuclear cooperation with the United States. Such a guarantee would be unprecedented and unwise. Congress should further clarify that the United States shall not provide or facilitate the supply of nuclear fuel to India if the Government of India resumes nuclear testing or fails to meet other provisions in U.S. law.

In sum, the experts conclude: “Without the inclusion of the provisions we have described, the legislation for renewed nuclear cooperation with India will have far-reaching and adverse implications for U.S. nuclear nonproliferation and international objectives. While we agree that building upon the already strong U.S.-Indian partnership is an important goal, we remain convinced that it can and should be pursued without undermining the U.S. leadership efforts to prevent the proliferation of the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

The full text of the letter is available at:

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