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No nuke trade if India tests: US
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

The Bush administration has assured members of Congress that the US has the right to terminate nuclear commerce with India in the event of a nuclear test by New Delhi, according to a correspondence revealed this week.

The State Department made this assurance in a January 16 letter to Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos, who was at the time chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Lantos died in February and was succeeded on the panel by Congressman Howard Berman.

The letter is a detailed response to questions from lawmakers about the nuclear agreement with India. In response to a question on nuclear testing, it notes that “should India detonate a nuclear device, the United States has the right to cease all nuclear cooperation immediately, including the supply of fuel, as well as to request the return of any items transferred by the United States, including fresh fuel.”

The letter goes on to say that ceasing nuclear cooperation with India “would be a serious step” and the United States will “not take such a serious step without careful consideration of the circumstances necessitating such action and the effects and impacts it would entail.”

The deal could be scrapped in the event of “detonation of a nuclear weapon, material violation of the 123 agreement, or termination, abrogation or material violation of the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.”

Berman disclosed the contents of the letter just days before the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group meets for a second time in Vienna to consider India-specific exemptions to enable a US-India civil nuclear deal. The group works by consensus.

The Washington Post noted Berman's release of the correspondence "could make approval even more difficult because it demonstrates that US conditions for nuclear trade with India are tougher than what the United States is requesting from the NSG on India's behalf." The Post noted the contents of the State Department letter were considered “so sensitive, particularly because debate over the agreement in India could have toppled the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the State Department requested they remain secret even though they were not classified.”

Significant among some of the assurances given to lawmakers are that the United States will help India deal only with "disruptions in supply to India that may result through no fault of its own. The fuel supply assurances are not, however, meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test or a violation of non-proliferation commitments."

The Post reported that the letter made clear that terminating cooperation could be immediate and was within the US discretion, and that the supply assurances made by the United States were not legally binding but simply a commitment made by President Bush.

The letter also stated that the "US government will not assist India in the design, construction or operation of sensitive nuclear technologies," even though the Hyde Act allowed transfers of such technology under certain circumstances. The US government had no plans to seek to amend the deal to allow sensitive transfers, the letter said.

In a separate piece of correspondence, Berman had written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to remind her about the Hyde Act provision and a House resolution that asked the US President to ensure that there would be immediate termination of all nuclear commerce by NSG states with India if the latter were to undertake a nuclear weapons test. However, the waiver draft the Unites States has submitted to the NSG doesn't impose such a condition.

In an interview with this correspondent late last month, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, said the State Department had not as yet responded to Berman's letter. "We have got a dialogue going with people in our Congress, including Congressman Berman," Boucher said, adding, "Some would like to see all provisions of the Hyde Act legislated in some international fashion. We don't think that is the right way. We think, in a sense, that it limits not only our President but other countries and how they react to things."

Noting that the Hyde Act, which lays the foundation for civilian nuclear trade with India, requires the US to do certain things, Boucher added: "That doesn't mean we will have to rewrite the Hyde Act and get everybody else to agree to it. I think we will be explaining this to the Congressmen and having this discussion in Congress as well as internationally."



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