18 October 2004

India-U.S. negotiations entering crucial stage

18 October 2004
The Hindu


India-U.S. negotiations entering crucial stage

By Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI, OCT. 17. With India and the United States beginning talks here on Thursday on Phase II of the `Next Steps in Strategic Partnership' (NSSP), Indian officials say that the negotiations on facilitating high-technology trade are entering the most difficult and crucial stage.

"The U.S. is looking to discuss changes in our domestic laws to tighten export controls," a senior official told The Hindu . Washington not only wants stricter controls on possible diversion of its high-tech exports but is keen on India placing restrictions on export of indigenous dual-use products too. Finally, the U.S. is expected to formally flag the contentious issue of "human resources." The U.S. side believes that Indian scientists are valuable to would-be proliferators because they represent the only pool of talent familiar with the "start-up stage" of nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

Russian scientists, in contrast, inherited running programmes. For this reason, Washington wants to devise ways to prevent a poorly-paid or retired "Indian A.Q. Khan" from offering his services elsewhere.

Sanctions on scientists

Asked whether the recent U.S. decision to impose sanctions on two Indian nuclear scientists — Y.S.R. Reddy and C.H. Surender — for allegedly assisting Iran was the opening salvo of a campaign to control the movement of scientific talent, officials said that any attempt to link this issue to supposed security lacunae in India will not be accepted. "You can even say we are pleased the U.S. took this action because it proves how faulty their intelligence is," said one official. "They rushed into this. Surender has never been to Iran. We would like to see what proof the Americans have to the contrary."

On general export controls, the Indian side believes that the existing legal framework is robust. "Of course, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade is seeing how it can be toughened," an official said, adding that recent reports about explosive projectiles being imported as scrap "are not helping the optics."

Four benchmarks

In their review of the NSSP, South Block officials have a more positive view than the Indian scientific community. The former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, too has criticised India for treating the NSSP as a kind of "nirvana." But South Block is sanguine. "You cannot get everything in one shot," said an official involved with the process. "And don't forget we got what we have without budging on Talbott's four benchmarks — which was earlier their precondition for cooperation."

The four benchmarks are: India must sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, stop production of fissile material, curtail missile development and enforce "state of the art" export controls.

Asked what India had conceded in Phase I, the officials said there had only been a strengthening of the existing commitments on export control. India signed an End-Use Verification Agreement (EUVA) with the U.S. in 1984, allowing the U.S. Commerce Department officials to make site visits to verify if dual-use products are being used for the purpose stipulated.

A U.S. export attaché was stationed here till 1989. "There was a natural growth in our high-tech relationship which got interrupted because of the 1998 tests," said an official. "What you are seeing is things returning to normal."

Though the updated EUVA will allow expeditious verification, the Indian side disputes the suggestion made last week by the Under Secretary of Commerce, Ken Juster, that inspectors could make "spot checks" at space and nuclear establishments importing U.S. dual-use items. Mr. Juster said that the U.S. would carry out "periodic end-use checks on a spot basis." While the EUVA signed in Washington on September 17 is a secret document, Indian officials dismiss the idea that an American inspector can pick-up the phone and say, `I'm arriving at the Solid State Physical Laboratory in 15 minutes.' "The Indian system doesn't allow such things," an official said. "There is no walk-in."

Responsible Indian officers will supervise the visits. "But please understand," said the official. "It's in my interest to have pre-licence checks and post-shipment verifications done quickly since delays only slow the arrival of high-tech imports."

Ironically, in a study of post-shipment verifications (PSVs) released by the U.S. General Accounting Office in January 2004, India received a more favourable review than China or Russia, especially for cooperation from May 2003 onwards. "India restricts Commerce from conducting PSVs to a limited extent," the GAO states. "According to our review of trip reports from India, India denied Commerce access to some facilities and items for PSV checks through 2003; however, the U.S. access to Indian facilities improved during 2003. In May 2003, the Government of India allowed PSVs and gave Commerce's special agents access to all the facilities they requested."

In April, China signed a new `end-use visit understanding' with the U.S. but this is not thought to include spot-checks. Only Russia allows U.S. inspectors to make unannounced visits to its enterprises using dual-use imports.

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