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Questions Remain as Bush Signs US-India Nuclear Deal

Posted by Laicie Olson and Jill Marie Parillo on October 9, 2008

After three years of negotiation, President Bush has signed an agreement that would open up nuclear trade with India for the first time since New Delhi conducted a nuclear test three decades ago, reversing 34 years of U.S. policy opposing nuclear cooperation with nations outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime. Yet, this deal will not be implemented without the signature of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Weakening the NPT Regime

President Bush asserts that "this agreement sends a signal to the world: nations that follow the path to democracy and responsible behavior will find a friend in the United States of America." India has no intention of signing the NPT, so this deal also sends a signal to NPT non-nuclear weapon state signatories that the bargain they signed up to- forgoing future nuclear weapon technology for a commitment from NPT nuclear weapon states to disarm and provide nuclear energy technology- may not be such a sweet deal. The US-India nuclear deal sets a dangerous precedent.

Puzzling Questions Unanswered

The speedy push to send this agreement through Congress leaves more than one question unanswered. What pushed the 45 nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to grant India a waiver on September 6 despite their previous opposition? In the three days of intense US bi-lateral negotiations going on at the NSG, what was promised, assured and agreed upon?

And, what happened to the Hyde Act? The original Act passed by Congress in the summer of 07 which changed US law to allow for trade with India. The Act also set rules like, India would not be allowed a large reserve of nuclear fuel which could be used if it decided to test another nuclear weapon. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice previously told the House Foreign Affairs Panel in public testimony that any agreement would "have to be completely consistent with the obligations of the Hyde Act." The DC based arms control community has raised concerns that the agreement would not force an end to US assistance if India tests a nuclear weapon. Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said that "despite our disappointment with the overall deal, it is clear that if India violates its pledges on the nuclear moratorium there will be consequences." However, it is unclear what these consequences might be.

Furthermore, the question of how this deal will assist India's nuclear weapons program is left unanswered. As a part of the deal, India agreed to open its civilian nuclear facilities to international inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), yet the agreement leaves eight military nuclear plants unsafeguarded. India can now import uranium to be used to fuel its safeguarded plants under this Deal, which will allow it to use its small reserves of indigenous uranium for its military facilities. The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation estimated that this would give India the ability to manufacture 40 to 50 nuclear weapons annually, as opposed to its current annual capability of 6 to 12.

With India's nuclear capability rising along with nonproliferation concerns in the region, the possibility of a re-ignited arms race in South Asia will fuel the fire between India and Pakistan (who have fought four wars since 1947). Furthermore, expanded nuclear trade in the region and the chance of a renewed arms race in South Asia will increase the global threat of nuclear terrorism and nuclear war.

Many agree that the time Congress spent debating this deal and passing this final Resolution of Approval, with only one informational hearing prior, was far too short. Senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) may have said it best, "never has something of such moment and such significance and so much importance been debated in such a short period of time and given such short shrift." The agreement was signed by President Bush today and now awaits the signature of Indian Prime Minister Singh.

Not So Fast

There is one last step and one last question to be answered before this becomes international law, will PM Singh sign the final agreement? Although Secretary of State Rice was in India this past weekend, Singh held out on signing. India wants President Bush to include signed statements that ensure nuclear fuel assurances, which will be withheld even if India tests again. With a letter out from ten Democrats warning that this agreement would be seen again in the next Congress if Hyde Act conditions are not respected, this deal is yet to be done.

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