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Experts Urge US Caution in Civilian Nuclear Deal With India


Experts have told U.S. lawmakers they should carefully examine the proposed agreement with India on civilian nuclear cooperation, saying the United States needs to move cautiously in finalizing the accord.

The U.S.-India agreement will require Congress to amend U.S. laws forbidding cooperation with countries, including India, that are not in compliance with key international nonproliferation treaties.

While many support the accord, lawmakers have serious concerns over the details, in particular what is viewed as a need for stronger assurances from New Delhi regarding its pledge to separate civilian and military nuclear programs, among other things.

Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, cautioned the Bush administration not to make assumptions about the accord's prospects in Congress. "It would be grossly irresponsible for this committee and for Congress as a whole, to act with unnecessary haste regarding a subject which can bear no false steps," he said.

Robert Einhorn, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, asserts the U.S.-India accord will send the wrong signal to countries thought to be developing or possessing nuclear weapons. "The nonproliferation gains of the joint [U.S.-India] statement are meager, compared to the damage to nonproliferation goals that would result if the deal goes forward as it currently stands."

But Neil Joeck, of the Center for Global Security Research, argues the agreement makes India an ally in nonproliferation efforts. "It recognizes the value of safeguards and the role of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in ensuring against diversion of sensitive technology. India has accepted this norm by agreeing to separate its civilian and military facilities, agreeing to place safeguards on its civilian reactors, and accepting IAEA monitoring of the civilian facilities," he said.

Others consider the accord deficient in key areas.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says Congress must answer what he calls many troubling questions raised by the accord before lawmakers change any existing U.S. laws. "We are the leader [in nonproliferation efforts] and if we pull our finger out of the dike, we don't know what is going to happen, and certainly Congress should resist any attempt by the [Bush] administration to seek changes in law quickly or without proper congressional and public oversight," he said.

Henry Sokolski, of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, says India should agree to a range of steps taken by what he calls advanced responsible nuclear states, such as renouncing increases in its nuclear arsenal, and abandoning production of fissile material.

Recalling successful efforts to secure the abandonment of weapons efforts by Libya, South Africa, and Ukraine, he says the absence of such steps will undermine the credibility of U.S. and Indian claims that their accord enhances nonproliferation: "They did it, they claim, not because of U.S. pressure but because they had signed the NPT and were going to be compliant with it. In the Indian case, things are different. We will allow it to hold on to its nuclear weapons, but the whole world is watching as to what the conditions will be," he said. "The U.S. and its allies certainly have an interest in making India behave more like the U.K. (Britain) and Japan than it does having it behave like China or Iran."

Another expert, Leonard Spector of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, says India needs to do more to assure the United States that it will be a real partner in pressing other countries, such as Iran, on nuclear nonproliferation. "I think we are seeing some progress, but it is not clear how far the Indians are prepared to go. The vote at the IAEA [supporting the move to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council] was significant, but it has been diluted by some of the information we are hearing after the fact regarding the [Indian] basis for the vote, and how the Indians are justifying it," he said.

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher says the concerns presented to the committee hearing should be heard clearly in New Delhi: "I would hope that the Indian government is listening to what is happening here today, and take very seriously this issue so that the objections that we are looking at can be dealt with," he said.

Lawmakers' warnings that the Bush administration should not make assumptions about quick congressional approval of the U.S.-India accord follow recent optimistic statements by U.S. officials.

During a recent visit to India, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said the administration is confident that a way forward can be found consistent with the aims and interests of Congress and the Indian government, and that a final agreement will be ready in time for President Bush's scheduled visit to New Delhi early next year.

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