The unseemly backside of the India-U.S. nuclear deal

MOSCOW. (Gennady Evstafiev, RIA Novosti)
The dust has hardly had a chance to settle over the celebration of the
"strategic" U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, when troublesome reefs, until now
concealed under the tide of the traditional American euphoria over a sealed
bargain, began to inhibit the deal from going forward as the tide ebbs.
Indians are not too ignorant about the decision-making process in America
to believe that the deal will be ratified fast. Predictably, the power of
businesses lured by the $100-billion prospects has come across public
concern over consistency with the U.S. Atomic Energy Act and the commitment
to keep from dealing with abstainers from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty. The Indians knew that to have the treaty ratified, U.S. President
George W. Bush would have to spend a lot of time in a stiff-necked
The battle has begun. In a first move that could teach Russian businesses a
good lesson, the U.S.-India Business Council has hired Patton Boggs, one of
Washington's top and most expensive lobbyists, to push through amendments
to the existing legislation enabling full-fledged nuclear cooperation with
This, however, is a long-term goal. To define what steps to take in order
to meet everybody's interests will surely take U.S. lawmakers some time.
Right now, the tactical objective is more important and is therefore
immediately employed - to "rightfully" undermine the competition.
Russia has helped India before, delivering - in an exclusion to
nonproliferation rules - some nuclear fuel to its Tarapur nuclear power
plant. Russia's intention to do that again with what is in fact a really
small amount of fuel provoked an outcry from U.S. officials. On the grounds
that everyone needs to be "clean in the face of the international
community", they have described the Indo-Russian deal as unjustified and
untimely, insisting that Russia and India should wait for the outcome of
congressional proceedings.
Ironically, the U.S., which helped India build the Tarapur NPP back in
1969, nearly starved the Indian reactors of fuel together with its
politically biased allies some time later. While the U.S. surely knows what
could happen if Russia, seeing the emergency as a threat to nuclear safety,
had not saved Tarapur, what is going on now will no doubt repeat many
That the U.S. is trying to use a non-ratified document to elbow its way
past competition is, however, just the tip of the iceberg. More
importantly, it now turns out that the Bush Administration has long known
that its nuclear experts - notably, influential Senator Richard G. Lugar
and, in a most recent case, president of the Institute For Science And
International Security (ISIS) David Albright - were heavily concerned over
what George W. Bush described as the "impeccable" Indian proliferation
Not trying to uphold or stand up to the U.S. claims, it is clear that
probably the most interesting part in the Indo-American nuclear game is
still to come. The U.S. Congress has long been known to be divided on
Cirus, a major Indian reactor working on U.S.-supplied heavy water and
reportedly serving as a source of weapons-grade plutonium for India's
military nuclear program. Though the State Department has said a final
conclusion has yet to be drawn, Cirus was excluded from the list of 14
local sites India vowed to open for the IAEA and, under pressure from the
U.S., American nuclear inspectors.
Now that Washington is resurfacing its long-standing concerns, the future
seems clear enough: as soon as Americans visit Indian nuclear sites with
notebooks in hand, the Indians might face big problems in terms of the
secrecy of their military effort and the availability of dual-use
technologies for peaceful purposes.
It is also easy to understand who will do this sort of inspecting. One
source highlighting American inspection methods is a book that describes
what was probably the most insolent abuse of international trust ever -
"Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to
Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein," written recently by Scott
Ritter, former head of the UN Security Council Special Commission on Iraq
and famous investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.
Moreover, Albright from ISIS has already named Indian Rare Earth Ltd. of
Bombay as the first potential victim of U.S. proliferation action that will
likely involve accusations of shopping abroad for rare materials and
restricted know-how for a covert centrifuge activity near Mysore.
All this suggests India is in for a good spell of U.S. proliferation
pressure. Seeking Indian support for its strategic foreign policy
objectives, Washington is clearly demonstrating that it will look to the
new nuclear deal for leverage, even though the deal has yet to be enforced.
Much now depends on how strong other Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories
will be as many members of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, with its strict
international nuclear monitoring regime, already object to making an
exception for India solely in the interests of the U.S. In any case, what
is clear right now is that any U.S. compromise on India's status might turn
out to be cost-prohibitive for New Delhi.
In this context, the right thing to do would be not to leave India's
nuclear future in the hands of such a slippery partner.
(Gennady Evstafiev retired from Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service with
the rank of Lieutenant General.)