Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Deal seal may confirm scientists' fears: Andersen

The implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal may well confirm the apprehensions of Indian scientists, says an American expert on South Asian affairs. If the deal is signed, "the Indian scientists will find themselves with less authority over the country's programmes as contractors/scientists get involved in the construction of nuclear facilities," Walter Andersen, a former South Asia Bureau intelligence official in the State Department, told this writer.

Noted Indian scientists, including the Atomic Energy Commission Chairman, feel that the deal could compromise the country's strategic interests, especially if certain advanced nuclear reactors were opened up for international inspection. Andersen, now associate director of the South Asia Program at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, also doubts whether "India will be able to produce a sufficient amount of fissionable material for its nuclear weapons programme or not".

"Visits of this nature have large public implications and more subtle bureaucratic ones, and I think the latter is more important than the former. And there are important reasons for doing so as the US and India are moving towards a more cooperative security relationship, which both countries find to their advantage."If India signs the deal, the US will give access to international nuclear technology and high quality uranium. But in turn, India will have to allow its nuclear reactors to be inspected.
The major roadblock that exists in the deal is the separation of military and civilian nuke facilities and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made amply clear that decision regarding the separation plan will be taken by India alone. As for the Congressional action on making India an exception to their non-proliferation legislation, Andersen says, it may be resolved after Bush's arrival and before that, "there is no chance that it will be resolved…"

Time and again, the US Congress has raised serious doubts over the Indo-US nuke pact. Recently, a Congressman said that a special concession to India might trigger similar demands from other countries. And this has already begun with Pakistan asking US to ink a similar deal.
Andersen also terms US envoy David Mulford's controversial remarks on the agreement undiplomatic. "This was clearly not a diplomatic thing to say and I think it was wrong. The Indian vote on Iran is being watched and an unfavourable vote (from the US perspective) would have created some sourness and given the opponents of the nuclear agreement some ammunition to use against the pact (and against India). Mulford had said that if India did not vote against Iran, the fallout on the July 18, 2005 deal would be "devastating" and the proposed Indo-US pact would die.
But Andersen doesn't think it would have been "devastating". "Our countries have a range of powerful incentives to improve the relationship that rises far above a statement," he clarifies.

(Written on March 1, 2006 for Hindustan Times)

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