Jul 12, 2008

India - It's in our favour


With the midnight unveiling of the draft safeguards agreement, which has been tabled at the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Vienna, two facts have come to light. First, the government was reluctant to publish the text prematurely not because it had anything in the agreement to hide from its people, but because it did not want to show it off and provoke the non-proliferation ayatollahs in the United States to mount a campaign against it. Second, the decision of the leftists to withdraw support to the government was not on account of the "devil in the details" of the agreement, but on the larger issue of a strategic alliance with the United States. They wanted to take the crucial step before the world discovered that the draft agreement was in keeping with the promises made by the prime minister. The draft is yet to be approved by the IAEA board, but if it emerges unscathed, even with a vote on it, much of the criticism that the inspections would tie India down in perpetuity to intrusive scrutiny of our indigenous facilities should disappear. Significantly, the agreement is material-specific rather than reactor-specific. The purpose of the inspections is stated to be "to guard against withdrawal of safeguarded material from civilian use". In other words, regardless of the separation plan, India and the IAEA can jointly determine, on the basis of a 1973 document of the board of governors, that a particular facility had ceased to be of relevance to the objectives of the inspections. Once the imported fuel is removed, the eight Indian Pressurised Heavy Water reactors would be off the inspections list. What is more, the annex to the agreement, which should list the facilities for inspection, has been left blank with a column to indicate the dates on which the facilities concerned were notified by India for inspection. The list in the separation plan, which was subject to controversy in India, has not been included in the annex. The date when the agreement comes into force as well as the listing of the facilities have been left entirely to India's sovereign decision, a point that was stressed in the joint statement, but subsequently diluted by the Americans. The fear that the safeguards agreement will come into force even if the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the US Congress do not take the deal forward has no basis whatsoever anymore. It will apply only after a declaration by India on its sovereign decision to place voluntarily civilian facilities in a phased manner. India had insisted, right from the beginning, that the IAEA should somehow endorse the principle in the deal that there will be reliable, uninterrupted and continuous fuel supply in perpetuity in return for safeguards in perpetuity. It had also maintained that it had the right to build up a strategic reserve. The IAEA was in no position to guarantee such supplies, but agreed to reflect this Indian requirement in the preamble.

Apparently this was possible only after a personal intervention by the director general of the IAEA. Naturally, the provisions of the preamble are not enforceable, but once the board takes note of the point, India will be in a strong position to insist on continuous supplies as a precondition for continuing inspections. Yet another provision that India could take corrective measures in the event of cessation of supplies leaves the field open for India to use its own fuel. No wonder, critics have singled out this provision for questioning and demanded that there should be clarity about what these measures would be. One windfall that has come in India's way, whether by design or as a logical consequence, is that our other safeguards agreements, which are applicable to facilities that use imported fuel, will be suspended as long as the new safeguards agreement is in force. This will be an improvement because the facilities, which are under individual safeguards agreements, will be freed as soon as they cease to have imported fuel. The draft agreement does not give India the same status as the nuclear weapon states, so designated, but the assertion that the number, duration and intensity of the inspections shall be kept at the minimum takes us closer to the original five, whose installations are hardly inspected. The prompt support extended to the draft by the governor from the US signals that America was indeed looking over the shoulders of the IAEA negotiators as they painstakingly put together a draft that followed the provisions of the Indo-US agreement. The pressures of the non-proliferation lobby will have little impact on the US in these circumstances. The G8 countries have also expressed support to the deal at their recent summit. But other governors may raise the points brought out by the non-proliferationists, one of whom has characterised the draft as "stinking". He has demanded that, at the very least, the designated facilities should be inspected in perpetuity and that the IAEA should terminate the agreement in the event of another Indian test. The reverberations of these demands will be heard in the NSG as well as in the US Congress. But the board is well on its way to approving the draft agreement, with a few abstentions, but no negative votes. (The writer is a former Indian ambassador.)

No comments: