08 July 2008

Nuclear deal - The scenario from here on

Today has been a day of dramatic developments.

1. The four Left parties -- the Communist Party of India (Marixst), the Communist Party of India, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc -- met in Delhi on Tuesday and decided to withdraw suport from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the United Progressive Alliance government. They have said so in a letter addressed to External Affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. The Left parties, who have 59 MPs, will meet the President of India, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, on Wednesday formally to inform her of their withdrawal of support.

2. The Left parties have also renewed their demand that the draft safeguards agreement India has negotiated with the International Atomic Energy Agency should be made public immediately.

3. The Left has asked five pointed questions about the draft and demanded a public debate before the government approaches the IAEA:

* In case the US or other countries in the NSG renege on fuel supply assurances for imported reactors, will we have the ability to withdraw these reactors from IAEA safeguards?
* If US/NSG countries renege on fuel supply assurances, can we withdraw our indigenous civilian reactors from IAEA Safeguards?
* If we have to bring nuclear fuel from the non-safeguarded part of our nuclear programme for these reactors in case of fuel supply assurances not being fulfilled, will we have the ability to take it back again?
* What are the corrective steps that India can take if fuel supplies are interrupted by the US/NSG countries?
* What are the conditions that India will have to fulfill if the corrective steps are to be put into operation?

4. The Samajwadi Party has publicly committed itself to supporting the Manmohan Singh government on this issue. It has 39 MPs. Together with the UPA's 225, that still means the Prime Minister needs the backing of another 8 MPs to reach the half-way mark of 272 and stave off defeat on the floor of the house. A number of smaller parties like the PDP and JD(S) have indicated they will vote for the government. However, some Samajwadi MPs may defect during the vote and side with the opposition.

5. The Prime Minister returns from Japan on July 10 and is likely to convene a special session of Parliament to prove his majority. That session is likely to be held on July 21.

6. Assuming the UPA wins the trust vote, I expect the government immediately thereafter formally to inform the IAEA secretariat about convening a special meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors for the purpose of approving the Indian safeguards agreement. In his press conference on Tuesday, in fact, Pranab Mukherjee said the government would only move the IAEA after winning its trust vote.

7. Under IAEA rules, 45 days notice must be given to the Board before the consideration of any fresh document. But if enough members want, the waiting time could be reduced. There is also a provision for a 72-hour notice period for emergency items but the Indian safeguards agreement will not be in the category.

8. The earliest I think the IAEA Board can approve the safeguards agreement, then, is September 8. But since the Board is scheduled to meet September 22-25 in any case, India might have to wait till then.

9. Assuming the IAEA approves the text, the U.S. will formally seek approval from the Nuclear Suppliers Group for a change in its export guidelines to allow nuclear commerce with India.

10. Since the Indian safeguards agreement enters the public domain as soon as it goes to the IAEA Board, nothing stops the NSG members from commencing their study of it with a view to making up their mind on whether to back the American proposal on India or not. But for them to do that, they also need to know exactly what it is that the U.S. is asking the NSG to do. If the American proposal is communicated to them at the same time as the Indian safeguards agreement, the NSG could, theoretically, be in a position to take a decision around the same time the IAEA Board of Governors acts. This will also be the time when the Indian side will known whether the Americans are proposing a "clean" exemption for India or not.

11. In my estimation, the earliest the IAEA and NSG decisions can be made is the end of September. Once that happens, the U.S. President must make a "determination" that all the conditions India had to fulfil under the Henry Hyde Act have been fulfilled and, pursuant to that, the 123 agreement is being submitted to Congress for approval.

12. Assuming this happens in the first week of October, the 123 agreement must lie before the House for a minimum of 60 days before it is voted "up or down". Thus, the earliest this could happen is in the first week of December, during the last "lame duck" session of Congress. The Hyde Act, incidentally, was also approved during this "lame duck" session in December 2006.

8 comments:

Anand P.K said...

But Mr. Siddharth, even if the UPA survives the confidence vote and proceeds to the IAEA, can all these be achieved within the date mentioned by you? The IAEA Board consists of countries like Pakistan, Finland, Japan and Siwtzerland, that do have reservations on the 123 agreement, as your story in the Hindu dated 8th July says. So, can the India-specific safeguards be worked out that well, even with US backing? Also, on the NSG waiver, the suppliers group has countries like Australia, China, and Brazil that have problems. the 45 group NSG has many countires with stringent domestic laws against nuclear proliferation, with many of them signatories to NPT? So will the telescoping or taking together of both IAEA safeguards and NSG waiver be achieved within the time frame? Any delay there could in turn delay the same being placed before the US Congress, which would be in lameduck. With the Democrats indicating that this agreement is much better off, if passed under Bush's tenure as President, any delay could automatically mean that any change of guard in White House with Democrats in power may lead to entire renegotiation. So, going by all this, is not the Civilian Nuclear Agreement for all practical purposes 'dead'?

Siddharth Varadarajan said...

I should have called this post the best case scenario for the Government of India! I don't mean to minimise the problems India could encounter at the IAEA and NSG but wanted to develop a sense of the timeline assuming a best case scenario.

I should add that once the NSG approves the deal, the Americans will find a way to do the same since not doing so would mean disadvantaging their own firms vis-a-vis the French and Russians.

Som said...

I do agree with the broad timeline assumed by writer. The key thing is intention. Now, India and US will place spirited efforts to get the deal into action. It's the major policy issue of both Govt.

Anyway, wonderful article. For a young journo like me, such article help lot to learn things in better way.

Pankaj Garg said...

I hope UPA gets the sufficient numbers on 21st [http://cpim.org/nuclear/statements/07092008-withdrawal%20of%20support.htm].

http://www.vtap.com/video/The+Left+Front+today+decided+to+withdraw+support/CL0192304078_7f850fc8

Is it mandatory for the president to ask for the floor test?

Pankaj Garg said...

is the non-left view just sounds good because it is projected by media that way and left is just being ridiculous or do they have some genuine point?

or is this issue made so big just to divert the attention from the inflation? and left will be a seen with UPA again next year. they cant go with BJP and they cant stay alone in the center as well, no?

Sid said...

I think there is a lot of merit in the criticisms the Left has levelled against the deal in the past. Indeed, many of those criticisms actually helped the government get a better deal. there are still problems with the kind of demands the americans are making. I think we should go as far as the NSG before taking another call. No sense in blocking off the possibility of doing business with France and Russia, who don't have Hyde Acts and 123 agreements.

Shivanand Kanavi said...

The five points raised about the 1-2-3 regarding assured fuel supply etc are important and valid questions. However it is surprising that it has taken them 8 months to raise these questions. These were the first assurances that one wanted from the government after the 1-2-3 was signed. It is possible that one cannot give categorical written clauses about many contigencies but if the negotiators are satisfied that these concerns have been addressed then one should take it face value. If you do not trust the face the intentions and loyalty of the negotiating team in the first place, then no amount of written assurances by anyone can satisfy the sceptics and cynics. Otherwise it would look like signing a pre-nupital divorce agreement about property division before marriage, in true Hollywood style. It is possible that even in such pre-nupitals it may not be clear who would get the cat and who would get the family dog!

Srinivasan Ramani said...

@ Shivanand,

However it is surprising that it has taken them 8 months to raise these questions. These were the first assurances that one wanted from the government after the 1-2-3 was signed.

Are you sure that the left took 8 months to come up with these 5 points or was it the case that it took you 8 months to realise that the left had these 5 points in mind?

I would be glad if you could please check up the left's objections to the 123 agreement in the first place after the same was negotiated 8-9 months ago.

And perhaps it would be necessary to notice the left's objections to the deal in 2006 itself, when the prime minister gave those assurances in parliament.