17 December 2005
Keep fast breeder reactor out of IAEA inspections: U.S. expert
`Only imported fuel and reactors should be placed under in-perpetuity safeguards'
- Indian negotiators should guard against hardline "American nationalists" who are reluctant to accept India's nuclear status
- Demand for in-perpetuity safeguards on all civilian facilities is "an affront to Indian sovereignty"
- Placing imported nuclear fuel or reactors under in-perpetuity safeguards a pragmatic adjustment
NEW DELHI: On the eve of crucial negotiations with the U.S. on the separation of India's civilian and military nuclear facilities, a well-known American analyst has strongly defended the Indian atomic establishment's desire to keep indigenous programmes like the fast breeder reactor (FBR) outside the purview of international safeguards and inspections.
In an interview to The Hindu on Friday, Selig S. Harrison, director of the Washington-based Center for International Policy's Asia programme, said Indian negotiators had to guard against hardline "American nationalists" in the Bush administration who are reluctant to accept India's nuclear status. Among them are Robert Joseph, Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control, whose "abhorrent" testimony at a Senate hearing last month on India accepting `in-perpetuity' safeguards for all its civilian facilities, Mr. Harrison says, "made my hair stand on end".
Mr. Harrison, an India hand of long standing and a keen watcher of Beltway politics, says opposition in the U.S. to the July 18 nuclear agreement comes from two different quarters. "Too much emphasis in India has been given to non-proliferation theologians like Bob Einhorn, George Perkovich and Michael Krepon — who have strong feelings about this agreement and are a problem — but another strong focus of opposition is the `nuclear dominance' types in the administration like Bob Joseph and J.D. Crouch II, the Deputy National Security Adviser."
Describing Mr. Joseph as "a John Bolton in different clothing," Mr. Harrison said that hardliners like him are "stuck on the idea that the U.S. is entitled to exercise a dominant global position through its nuclear dominance... They have zeroed in on `in-perpetuity safeguards' because this is what most clearly defines for them the fact that the U.S. is a nuclear power and India is not".
He added: "If the whole question of safeguards — in the exact way Mr. Joseph expressed it in his testimony to the Senate on November 2 — is in fact this administration's settled policy, then we are in for a very difficult negotiation indeed." The demand for in-perpetuity safeguards on all civilian facilities, including indigenously developed ones such as the FBR, is "an affront to Indian sovereignty," says Mr. Harrison.
Dr. Anil Kakodkar of the Department of Atomic Energy has said the FBR and other civilian R&D projects must not be subjected to safeguards for the present, and Mr. Harrison agrees. "To me, it seems clear that India cannot sacrifice the integrity of that programme... Indeed, India can afford to compromise on many of the modalities of this agreement precisely because if the FBR programme does succeed, which I am sure it will, this will give you a tremendous military potential. This is why they don't like it."
The FBR would produce fissile material but the only U.S. concern ought to be that this material not leave India. "The July 18 agreement will bring India into the non-proliferation regime and strengthen export control so that issue is taken care of," says Mr. Harrison. "The FBR is going to be a big problem for Bob Joseph and his people but I see no scope for compromise on India's part. This has to be off the safeguards list in terms of India's strategic priorities."
As a sweetener, Mr. Harrison suggests India offer two compromises. First, it should place the Canadian-supplied Cirus reactor — which has so far been used for weapons-related activities but is old and on "life support" — in the list of civilian facilities. And it should be willing to accept in-perpetuity safeguards for any imported fuel, equipment or reactor. The latter would be "highly regrettable" and a "sacrifice of principle" but is a price India should consider paying.
"The obvious compromise is that any imported nuclear fuel or reactors could be placed in safeguards in perpetuity as a pragmatic adjustment, necessitated by the importance of getting civilian nuclear cooperation", he says. "And it seems to me there will be enough facilities not under safeguards — if the U.S. is prepared to accept India's civilian list — that the Indian deterrent would be quite secure. There will be plenty of plutonium in the unsafeguarded facilities, and there's the FBR is the long run".
On the sequencing of Indian and U.S. actions, Mr. Harrison says there would also be difficulty. "In the end, I am not sure if State Department types who see a strategic benefit to the U.S. from nuclear cooperation with India will prevail. I don't know if Condoleezza Rice will get into this enough herself, or Mr. Bush, to keep the hardline nationalist types from getting terms written into this deal and then making it seem like these terms are reasonable and that India is not accepting them. So I am not sure how deeply Bush will get into this."
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