Friday, August 17, 2007

Max Postman: Indian External Affairs Minister: Hyde Act “Not Binding” for India

*Special guest post by Max Postman

The Indian government is facing extremely vocal opposition from both the country’s leftist and nationalist parties over the “123 agreement” for nuclear cooperation with the U.S. that was reached last month. Indian opponents argue that the deal places unacceptable constraints on India’s nuclear weapons program.

On Thursday, “dozens” of members of parliament opposed to the deal stormed into the center of both houses of parliament and shouted, "Prime minister quit your job" and "Stop lying, Stop selling the country.” But since the deal does not require parliamentary approval, the opposition cannot block the agreement unless they are willing to withdraw from Prime Minister Singh’s ruling coalition—which they apparently are not.

The Indian government maintains that the deal does not compromise Indian nuclear autonomy. This week, Indian officials attempted to mollify the opposition with the following statements:

Prime Minister Singh: "The agreement does not in any way affect India's right to undertake future nuclear tests if it is necessary in India's national interest.”

External Affairs Minister Mukherjee: "Whatever is stated in the Hyde Act is not binding on us. How they (US) deal with it is their problem.”

Singh and Mukherjee’s statements appear deliberately confusing. The 123 agreement is dangerously unclear about what the U.S. would do in the event that India tests a nuclear weapon. The agreement does, however, commit the U.S. to find other countries to provide nuclear fuel in the event that the fuel supply is disrupted, which strongly diminishes the consequences of testing. The Prime and External Affairs Ministers’ statements speak to the lack of meaningful or clear constraints in the 123 agreement.

Unlike the Indian Parliament, the U.S. Congress does have the power to block the agreement for nuclear cooperation. Congress and the American people should be listening very carefully to what the Indian government is saying about the deal, and consider the impact on nonproliferation efforts in that light.

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