July 13, 2020
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'West Too Must Make A Commitment'

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'West Too Must Make A Commitment'

Arundhati Ghose, India's feisty Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, sister of former information secretary, Bhaskar Ghose, has been spearheading India's case at the CD. In a telephonic interview with Sunil Narula, she spoke about India's position:

Was there any hostility against India at the CD?

I don't know where you got the idea that there was a mood of hostility against India. There was no hostility.

What about the UK statement?

They don't speak for everybody else. That statement was made during the negotiations in order to put pressure on India to sign the treaty. The language of it was such, even the UK's allies apologised to me for the statement. It is not a general feeling of hostility. That statement engendered a lot of hostility against the UK ambassador.

Do you foresee any pressure there?

Once we have decided that we will not sign the treaty unless our concerns are taken on board, what can they do?

What about international pressure?

That you will have to ask Delhi. They tried for 28 years to get us to sign the NPT, and they weren't terribly successful. They know that India reacts badly to pressure.

Was there any behind-the-scenes pressure on you in Geneva?

There was no behind-the-scenes pressure. It was just statements like 'we are going to insist', 'if you don't sign you'll be a treaty breaker', 'this was Nehru's dream', that 'you are developing a secret nuclear weapon...arsenal', this kind of stuff.

The western press presents India as being isolated on the issue...

In the sense that India is the only country which has stood up and said no. But there is a lot of sympathy among the developing countries for our position and the fact that we had the strength to stand up and say no. A large number of these countries last year were pressurised into accepting the indefinite extension of the NPT. And a lot of them are still smarting from that pressure. So it gives them a kind of vicarious pride that one of their own countries is able to say no.

But none of them is willing to stand by India...

During the negotiations, one developing country said, 'we have not spoken so far but that is not because we don't have an opinion but because our point of view has been defended by India'. This was informal. You know they are vulnerable to pressure, they are signatories of the NPT. It is incorrect to say that India is isolated. Yes, India is alone in objecting and coming out very clearly, but we have always done that.

Any chances of India's exemption from the eight-nation clause?

This is up to those who want to sign the treaty. If they want to see the treaty coming into force, even after I have said that we are not going to sign...and it's not just me here, over the weekend even the foreign minister had made it very clear. This is government policy, it's not mine. If they insist that it will come into force only after India signs, that is their responsibility. So there is a lot of pressure on Russia, China, Pakistan and Britain who want this clause, to back off. Because France and the US are quite willing to allow the treaty to go through without India's signature.

What are the objections of these four countries?

Pakistan has said it will not sign unless India signs. And presumably, they feel that they will be less able to withstand pressure than we are and they don't want that pressure. So they have been telling the nuclear weapon states to"take India's concerns on board... how can you expect India to sign if her concerns aren't met?" Then you have Russia and China who have difficulties on the substance of the verification regime—the core of the treaty. Russia and China on June 28 said they want negotiations to continue when the CD reconvenes. I don't know what UK's problem is. They've fallen out with the US and France, their closest allies. Maybe they don't want a treaty. I can't see why, because they have to use the US testing sites. If the US says no, they can't test.

Were you the only woman ambassador at the CD?

No. The Japanese ambassador is a woman, the Kenyan ambassador is a woman, I think there are three or four of us.

Any special reaction because you are a woman?

I've never been a man...so I don't know. If the Government's policy is clear, and the support from headquarters is solid, as has been the case for me, then it is up to the negotiator to present the case, and push it through. Your gender doesn't matter.

India has for the first time mentioned national security as our reason for not signing the CTBT.

No. Not at all. We had mentioned this (in) earlier statements which we had made in the CD. In the last statement it was clearly spelt out, because it needed to be driven home. It is real, not rhetoric, it is a real national security concern. It's nothing new. They (the nuclear weapon states)are asking us for a commitment, they also must make an equivalent commitment. That is where the balancing comes out.

What is happening to the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) talks?

Nothing. The G-21 has adopted a decision which it placed formally before the CD, that immediately after the CTBT ends, they want the ad-hoc committee on nuclear disarmament taken up. So there's another battle before us.

So the FMCT will come in later?

Let's see whether you need an FMCT. Because the four N-weapon states have already voluntarily stopped production of fissile material. They don't know what to do with it. It's the safety and security of this material which is a big issue. They had a summit in May, to deal with nuclear smuggling, a new area. FMCT is slightly outdated. Right now it's dead in the water.

Is the FMCT also aimed at capping our fissile material production?

Yes, but if we are not willing to be capped, I don't see how they're going to do it. Will they make commitments which are equivalent? This is the entire issue on which the CTBT is now hung. If they're not, and at the CTBT it's clear they are not, it's pointless thinking of anything else.

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