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Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Nuclear Deals Adding Up for South Asia
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Wade Boese

Key nuclear suppliers wasted little time in offering their goods to India after a September waiver of international nuclear trade restrictions against that country. France and the United States swiftly signed bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements with India, while Russia is on the verge of finalizing a similar pact. Pakistan, India’s rival, also did not stay idle, claiming a new deal for two Chinese reactors despite a multilateral rule proscribing such a transaction.

On Sept. 30, France concluded the first nuclear cooperation agreement with India following the Sept. 6 Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decision to exempt India from a 1992 rule restricting nuclear exports to countries, like India and Pakistan, that refuse to grant international access to their entire nuclear complexes. (See ACT, October 2008.) The terms of the French-Indian accord, negotiated earlier this year, remain confidential. On the day of the signing, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thanked the French government for its “consistent support” of the three-year Bush administration campaign to void the NSG rule on India’s behalf.

Pranab Mukherjee, India’s external affairs minister, similarly praised Bush administration officials Oct. 10 when he joined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to sign the U.S.-Indian cooperation pact. The two sides completed negotiations in July 2007 on the so-called 123 agreement (see ACT, September 2007), but were prohibited from finalizing it until a series of actions took place, including the NSG waiver.

In an Oct. 20 address to India’s parliament, Mukherjee said the government also hoped to conclude a nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia when President Dmitry Medvedev visits India in December. A draft agreement reportedly includes a Russian commitment to supply India with at least four new reactors.

Foreign firms cannot commence nuclear trade, including nuclear reactor fuel exports, with India until it brings into force its new safeguards arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). To accomplish that, India must notify the agency that it is ready to bring the safeguards into force and specify where they are to be applied. Safeguards are measures, such as inspections, intended to deter or detect the diversion of nuclear materials or technologies from permissible peaceful purposes to nuclear arms.

India, however, intends to continue operation of a nuclear weapons sector, so the new safeguards arrangement will apply exclusively to facilities that India voluntarily declares to the agency in accordance with a March 2006 plan. (See ACT, April 2006.) New Delhi, which already has safeguards arrangements for six reactors, pledged by 2014 to incrementally submit eight additional power reactors (some currently operating and some under construction) to safeguards. Moreover, India will have to put the four possible reactors from Russia under safeguards. Eight other current Indian reactors would be out of bounds to the IAEA.

On Oct. 20, President George W. Bush fulfilled a legislative requirement to certify that U.S. nuclear transfers to India would be “consistent with the obligation of the United States under the [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)] not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce India to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other explosive devices.” That certification enables U.S. companies to apply for nuclear export licenses to India.

Critics of the U.S.-Indian agreement have said it will aid India’s bomb efforts by enabling India to dedicate more of its scarce uranium resources to producing fuel for weapons rather than power reactors. Opponents further contended that as India steps up its nuclear activities, Pakistan will seek to do the same.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who was among the minority of lawmakers voting against approval of the U.S.-Indian 123 agreement, seized on Pakistan’s announced deal for two new Chinese reactors as confirming the critics’ concerns. In an Oct. 18 press statement, Markey asserted that, “by destroying the nuclear rules for India, President Bush has weakened the rules for everyone else.” He added, “Pakistan and China will be the first, but almost certainly not the last, to take advantage of this perilously weakened system.”

Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, apparently disclosed the deal to the media as part of a recent package of agreements concluded between the Chinese and Pakistani governments. News reports stated the deal would entail the supply of two additional reactors to Pakistan’s Chashma nuclear complex, where China has previously built one reactor and is installing another. The contracts for the first two reactors were concluded before NSG members in May 2004 invited China to join the group, so China could legally fulfill the contracts. The NSG rule recently waived for India still restricts trade with Pakistan, so China appears to be acting against its group commitments.

Qin Gang, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, offered journalists Oct. 21 only vague statements on the reported deal. Without specifically confirming the transfer of two additional reactors, Qin said China would continue its civilian nuclear “cooperation” with Pakistan and contended that such cooperation “fully complies with the two countries’ respective international obligations.”

The U.S. government has not commented on the purported deal and declined to answer questions posed Oct. 20 by Arms Control Today. Bush administration officials over the past few years have maintained Pakistan should not be given the same nuclear trade privileges as India. Prior to the NSG’s offer of membership to China and two weeks after China had concluded the contract for the second reactor at Chashma, John Wolf, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, told a May 18, 2004, House International Relations Committee hearing that “the United States would prefer that no country provide Pakistan the benefits of peaceful nuclear cooperation.” (See ACT, June 2004.)

Whether some governments will press China on its nuclear ties to Pakistan at an upcoming November NSG meeting is unclear. One item supposedly on the agenda is discussion of criteria to limit uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technologies, which can be used to produce nuclear fuel for reactors and the key ingredients for nuclear arms. (See ACT, June 2008.) To help pave the way for congressional approval of the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement, Rice promised to make the pursuit of such criteria, including a draft requirement that recipients be NPT states-parties, the “highest priority” of the United States.

If adopted, that criteria would block enrichment and reprocessing exports to New Delhi. India appears to be maneuvering to prevent such a possibility. At a recent trilateral summit, India joined two NSG members, Brazil and South Africa, in issuing an Oct. 15 declaration that included a provision underscoring “the importance of ensuring that any multilateral decisions related to the nuclear fuel cycle do not undermine the inalienable right of [s]tates to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” The NSG operates by consensus, so the adoption of any criteria pertaining to exports of nuclear fuel cycle technologies, including enrichment and reprocessing transfers, could be blocked by a single state.