Bush Enacts Civil Nuclear Agreement With India

WASHINGTON, DC, December 18, 2006 (ENS) - President George W. Bush today signed a new law expanding U.S. civil nuclear cooperation with India, even though New Delhi refuses to sign the 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

"India has conducted its civilian nuclear energy program in a safe and responsible way for decades," Bush said at the White House signing ceremony.

"After 30 years outside the system, India will now operate its civilian nuclear energy program under internationally accepted guidelines - and the world is going to be safer as a result," the President said.

But India's military nuclear activities and eight of India's civilian nuclear facilities are not included in the agreement and do not fall under the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog.


President George W. Bush is joined by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. legislators, as he signs H.R. 5682 The United States-India Peaceful Atomic Cooperation Act in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Eric Draper courtesy The White House)
The law signed by President Bush, known as the U.S.-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act, lifts long-standing legal restrictions - enacted after a series of nuclear weapons tests by India in the 1970s - that prevented U.S. companies from trading in nuclear fuels and investing in India’s civil nuclear industry.

These restrictions were "an aggravating factor" in U.S.-Indian relations until 2005, when the President offered U.S. support in exchange for India’s acceptance of international inspectors to verify that 14 civil nuclear facilities are not diverting materials to build nuclear weapons, said Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns.

The law, Burns said, is the centerpiece of a series of initiatives identified by President Bush and Prime Minister Singh to build the U.S.-Indian strategic partnership to promote democracy in the region, deepen military-to-military relations and further expand counterterrorism cooperation between Washington and New Delhi, a development that will contribute positively to stability in the wider region.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today told the Indian Parliament that the U.S. law on the civil nuclear deal contains "areas of concern" that will be clarified in further "difficult" negotiations with Washington.


President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shake hands for the cameras after agreement was reached on the civilian nuclear cooperation deal. March 2, 2006. (Photo courtesy The White House)
Singh assured Indian legislators that the nuclear deal would not be allowed to affect India's strategic nuclear program or the development of fast breeder reactors.

He attempted to turn aside criticism that India would become a "client" state of the United States under the bilateral deal that paves the way for India to purchase nuclear fuel from the United States.

In Washington, President Bush said both countries will benefit from strengthened trade ties, and he called the law a "foundation for a new strategic partnership."

Critics say, the U.S. supply of nuclear fuel to India will enable New Delhi to divert its own limited amount of nuclear fuel from power plants to weapons.

"President Bush said today that this deal was an 'historic agreement,' but in fact this deal is an historic mistake," said Congressman Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who serves as a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee and co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation.

"It has shredded the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; it has emboldened Iran’s nuclear weapons program; and has vastly increased India’s capacity to make nuclear weapons to 40 to 50 nuclear bombs per year from two to three nuclear bombs per year," Markey said.

If India adds to its arsenal of nuclear weapons, critics worry that a nuclear arms race in Asia would be the result.

They warn that the deal undercuts international efforts to prevent countries such as North Korea and Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.


Congressman Ed Markey is a Massachusetts Democrat who serves as a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee and co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation. (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)
"This agreement marks an intensifying and dangerously escalating nuclear arms race in the Middle East and Asia," Markey said. "We are going to rue this day, because the Pakistanis and the Iranians are not going to sit on their hands and allow this to happen."

The Nuclear Control Institute, NCI, an anti-nuclear advocacy organization based in Washington, says the most "distressing and dangerous element" of the agreement is "the blind eye both Congress and the White House have turned toward India's most audacious nuclear violation."

"From 1960 to the present day, India has been using the world's first Atoms for Peace reactor exclusively for producing plutonium for weapons," said NCI's Paul Leventhal.

India signed "peaceful use only" contracts with Canada and the United States which supplied India the CIRUS research reactor and the heavy water needed to make it run, Leventhal said.

In 1976, the U.S. Senate uncovered that India had used CIRUS plutonium for its 1974 nuclear test. "This sparked an outcry that resulted in enactment of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978, barring further nuclear exports to India until India accepted international inspections on its entire nuclear program," Leventhal recalled.

The 1978 law's key provision, full safeguards under the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, as a condition of nuclear supply, was eventually adopted by the Nuclear Suppliers Group as a backup for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, NPT.

"It is this law and the NPT regime that are now being trashed to make possible the nuclear deal with India," Leventhal said.

India has agreed to shut down the CIRUS reactor in 2010, but the plutonium produced by the reactor has gone into India's nuclear warheads, Leventhal points out.


Paul Leventhal founded the Nuclear Control Institute (Photo courtesy NCI)
"The U.S. has not demanded that India place this plutonium or an equivalent amount from other uninspected stocks under the authority of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to ensure civilian use," he said.

The White House responds to critics by saying that the United States does not recognize India as a nuclear weapons state. The 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty defines a nuclear weapons state as "one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January 1, 1967." India does not meet this definition, and we do not seek to amend the Treaty, the Office of the Press Secretary said in a statement March 8, 2006.

The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China exploded nuclear devices before January 1, 1967.

Critics also worry that only 14 of India's 22 nuclear power reactors will be safeguarded under the agreement, and India's two developmental fast breeder reactors will remain without safeguards.

With these facilities, India can produce enough nuclear weapons to significantly expand its current arsenal, critics warn.

The White House Press Office responds that at present, only four of India's nuclear power reactors are under safeguards and the agreement will increase that number to 14.

When the United States and India sealed the civilian nuclear cooperation deal with a handshake back in March, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei welcomed the announcement.

"This agreement is an important step towards satisfying India´s growing need for energy, including nuclear technology and fuel, as an engine for development. It would also bring India closer as an important partner in the non-proliferation regime," said Dr. ElBaradei. "It would be a milestone, timely for ongoing efforts to consolidate the non-proliferation regime, combat nuclear terrorism and strengthen nuclear safety."

"The agreement would assure India of reliable access to nuclear technology and nuclear fuel. It would also be a step forward towards universalization of the international safeguards regime," Dr. ElBaradei said. "This agreement would serve the interests of both India and the international community."