The cat is finally out of the bag. It is now official that the Bush and Manmohan Singh administrations have no common or agreed understanding on vital aspects of the Indo-U.S. deal for civilian nuclear cooperation. A detailed official Bush administration letter, dated January 16, 2008, which answered 45 political-technical questions submitted in October 2007 by Tom Lantos, the then chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, was considered so sensitive from an Indian political standpoint that the State Department ensured that it was kept secret even though it was not a classified document. The current chairman of the House Committee, Howard L. Berman, has chosen to make the text of the State Department’s answers public — because, his spokesperson explained, if the Nuclear Suppliers Group, meeting in Vienna, approved a revised U.S. proposal to exempt India from the requirement of full-scope safeguards as a condition of civilian nuclear exports, the 123 agreement would go to Congress, which naturally needed to be well informed. But so do India’s Parliament and people because the strategic stakes — and risks — are much higher for India.
What is clear is that in the official Washington view, there will be no ‘full civilian nuclear cooperation’; indeed the U.S. administration has specifically assured Congress that it has ruled out the transfer of reprocessing and enrichment equipment and technology to India. More importantly, Washington is blindingly clear that the whole arrangement will collapse should India conduct another nuclear explosive test — that is the red line India shall not cross. But post-termination, India will have no choice but to continue safeguards in perpetuity ‘without condition’ and, in any case, its countervailing measures (‘corrective measures,’ ‘reasonable operating requirements,’ and ‘strategic reserve’) lack definition and concreteness. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other high-level representatives of his government have repeatedly claimed that there is nothing in the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal that prevents India from conducting further nuclear explosive tests. Washington is clear that India cannot test the agreement and have it too. Specifically, “should India detonate a nuclear explosive device, the United States has the right to cease all nuclear cooperation with India immediately, including the supply of fuel, as well as to request the return of any items transferred from the United States, including fresh fuel.” The official Bush administration position, evidently known to the Indian government, is that the fuel supply assurances, under Article 5.6 of the 123 agreement, are “intended to guard against disruption of fuel supply to India that might occur through no fault of India’s own,” for example, on account of a trade war, market disruptions, or the failure of a company to fulfil a fuel supply contract. They are “not ... meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test or a violation of non-proliferation commitments.” In this crucial respect, the 123 is of a piece with the Hyde Act — and the Manmohan Singh government’s claims and assurances go up in smoke.