Even as the Agreement was being hailed with much self-congratulation as a path-breaker, it ran into a barrage of criticism, both on its substance as also on the uncertainty about eventual U.S. Congressional approval. Indian spokespersons were at pains to suggest that there would be simultaneous movement forward, but it became obvious pretty soon that India would first have to take all the steps towards compliance before the U.S. Congress could take it up for ratification. It has become even clearer now after two rounds of technical talks that the Indian plan of separation of facilities, complex enough by itself, must meet with U.S. approval before further progress can be made.
A comprehensive statement by the Government had been promised but two sessions of Parliament have come and gone and there has been none. No Standing Committee of Parliament has had an opportunity to consider the matter.
In favour of the agreement, it has been claimed that 1) it will open up civilian nuclear cooperation with the U.S., and the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, after several decades of freeze; 2) sanctions on civilian nuclear and related technology will become a thing of the past 3); it will contribute to meet our energy requirements; and 4) confer on India implicit nuclear weapon power status.
Against these, it has been argued that 1) the separation of the nuclear facilities into civilian and military and the signing of the Additional protocol with the IAEA as our part of the bargain and doing so to the full satisfaction of the U.S. Congress will compromise India's strategic nuclear autonomy; 2) American civil nuclear technology is outdated and not much can be gained; and 3) addition to our civilian nuclear energy production is not likely to be significant.
The fear shared by many is that the price we will be asked to pay to ensure U.S. Congressional ratification will be too high, not only in the specific area of our future nuclear programme, but even on broader issues of nuclear proliferation, and perhaps also on other foreign policy aspects. An added anxiety is the not so very encouraging past record of the U.S. in adhering to agreements; modifications and withdrawals from bilateral/multilateral accords driven by shifts and reversals in U.S. doctrine and policy are not unknown.
For good or bad, Iran has become a test case. India is being called upon to confirm its non-proliferation credentials by voting against Iran again at the IAEA to drag it to the Security Council. Looking beyond, sanctions against Iran and punitive action in the event of non-compliance are very likely to follow and India's continued endorsement of the U.S.-EU policy would be required, even though we are not in the Security Council and are not called upon to vote.
Even if Iran is guilty of obfuscation and is covertly nurturing a weapons programme, how far would India wish to go in terms of applying pressure on it to prevent it? U.S. policy does include the use of force to achieve this; but would India be ready to join the U.S. all the way? It has been suggested by some commentators that if it comes to choosing between the U.S. and Iran, U.S. is the obvious choice. But why should India be forced to get into this difficult dilemma of choosing? Even the closest of friendship and partnership should leave room for differences in perception and prescriptions for action based on historical links, economic interests, including energy supplies, regional compulsions and variations in world vision. If the U.S. truly wants to develop a new partnership with India, it should recognise this fundamental truth and not expect or demand total compliance with U.S. global view and policy.
Given the sharp divergence of opinion on this landmark agreement and the strong passion that it has generated in the country, the very least that the Indian Government could do, before finalising the terms of implementation of this Agreement, is to present a full picture to the Indian public of where we are heading. Even admitting that security considerations may have to be kept in mind, the present ambiguity and paucity of information is not acceptable in a democratic country. In such a situation, bits and pieces of news and speculative comments appearing in the media, many of them from American sources, who always seem to be better briefed and know more, help only to create more confusion and engender more suspicion that India is somehow being manoeuvred into surrendering its autonomy in decision-making on such vital matters.
Not only the strategic community and the scientific community but also concerned citizens have the right to know and should have access to full and correct information. The Government of India should put aside its present policy of reticence and share with the people of India all that they are legitimately entitled to know.
C.B. Muthamma, Former Ambassador of India to Hungary and Netherlands
N.Krishnan, Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations
A.P. Venkateswaran, Former Foreign Secretary
A. Madhavan, Former Ambassador of India to Japan and Germany
P.L. Sinai, Former Ambassador of India to Austria and Representative to the IAEAP
A.Nazareth, Former Ambassador of India to Egypt and Mexico
C.V. Ranganathan, Former Ambassador of India to China and France
A.M. Khaleeli, Former Ambassador of India to Iran and Italy.
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