Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Update on the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal


The U.S. – India nuclear deal inched closer to completion on September 27th as the U.S. House of Representatives approved the agreement by a 298-117 margin - a relatively close vote, considering the agreement would have been blocked with just 1/3 of the total votes cast as "nay". This submission followed the necessary waiver secured at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on September 6, exempting India from international rules barring nuclear trade with countries that do not accept full-scope safeguards over all of their nuclear facilities.

Throughout its judicial process, the Bush administration has continuously disregarded non-proliferation concerns and has been pressuring Congress to approve the 123 Agreement, namely by foregoing the required 30-day review period. At the moment, the 123 Agreement lies in the Senate, where it has bi-partisan support and many, including Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), want it passed before Congress adjourns. Before the Senate votes on the agreement (expected within the next few days), several non-proliferation concerns - which earlier debate and discussion have yet to resolve - must be reviewed.


Leading up to the vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on September 18th questioning the U.S. State Department of the wisdom in proceeding with the 123 Agreement. Providing testimony was Under Secretary for Political Affairs, William J. Burns, and Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, John G. Rood. Rood attempted to allay the Committee’s fears, stating, “India has committed itself to follow the same practices as responsible nations with advanced nuclear technology. It has agreed to participate in cooperative efforts to deal with the challenges posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems." However, as others pointed out, these are non-binding commitments, giving India the potential to pursue future policies expanding nuclear proliferation without international legal ramifications.

Several Senators, recognizing the 123 Agreement’s safeguards and perpetuity clause that reserves India's right to take "corrective measures" if there is a disruption in fuel supplies, are skeptical of the State Department’s optimism. Sen. Feingold (D-WI), one of two Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee voting against the agreement, has said he is still “concerned that this agreement does not have adequate protections to guard against the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology… this deal seriously undermines nonproliferation efforts and could contribute to an arms race that would have global implications.” The 123 Agreement fails to include key conditions that Congress mandated in the 2006 Hyde Act, the very document that allowed the Administration to pursue negotiations with India.

Regardless of the Agreement’s deficiencies, the Senate Committee voted in favor of the Agreement by a margin of 19-2 on September 23rd.


As the Senate prepares to vote on the deal, the efforts of independent organizations to continue to actively oppose the agreement for its many loopholes and flaws should not be ignored. On September 19, thirty four independent experts and organizations – including John Isaacs for the Center's sister organization, Council for a Livable World - sent a letter to members of Congress asking them to resist pressure to rush toward approving the U.S.-India nuclear agreement in its current form.

The letter identifies that the agreement now presented to Congress ignores many of the critical restrictions – common sense restrictions, like termination of the agreement if India tests nuclear weapons - from Congress's 2006 Hyde Act, (again, the very document that allowed the Administration to pursue negotiations with India).

The experts' concerns include:

  • India has not signed the CTBT and therefore has no legally-binding commitment towards nuclear disarmament.
  • The Agreement would indirectly assist India’s nuclear weapons program because foreign supplies of nuclear fuel to India’s civil sector will free domestic supplies for weapons-grade plutonium production.
  • Additional safeguarded reactors provide little non-proliferation value as India’s nuclear weapons program lies outside its civilian sector.
  • The Hyde Act’s terms regarding safeguards “in perpetuity” and “consistent with IAEA standards and practices” is yet to be agreed upon between India and the U.S.
  • A declaration of facilities to be safeguarded has yet to be filed with the IAEA.
  • There are no IAEA safeguards preventing India from replicating imported nuclear technologies for use in its non-safeguarded military sector.
  • There are no safeguards keeping India from continuing nuclear testing.
  • India has strong connections to Iran.
These concerns and others - like the future ramifications of a precedent that runs over rules like the Hyde Act - were discussed publicly during the Center's September 24th Congressional briefing with the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center's Henry Sokolski, the Arms Control Association's Daryl Kimball, the Bi-partisan Security Working Group's Amb. Robert Grey, and the Center's Leonor Tomero.

In another forum, the GW's Elliott School of International Affairs recently hosted a panel discussion, “New Energy for the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal,” during which members from the U.S.-Business Council discussed forseeing a burgeoning cooperation from reactor building contracts, the generation of $23-45 billion in revenue, and the creation of 75,000-150,000 jobs. Dr. Michael Krepon held these predictions as overly optimistic, and argued that Senate ratification would – in essence - -make the IAEA and NSG, the institutions that have been carefully resurrected to ensure non-proliferation policies, complicit in proliferation.


The Senate cannot afford to forego critical debate and discussion of this controversial deal. The Center, along with its allied organizations, advocates that Senators consider the future problems of voting for, what Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard Jr. defines as an agreement “significantly weaken[ing] U.S. and international security,” in favor of pushing it through haphazardly before recess. The risks to years of work – including by Congress itself – for global non-proliferation are far too great.

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