New Delhi, July 12 : Defending the UPA Government's decision to move ahead with the next steps in the controversy-ridden and much delayed US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement, the country's top four and key negotiators said late on Saturday evening that every aspect of the agreement, including the India-specific safeguards to be certified and approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), would be scrutinised thoroughly before the pact's operationalisation.
Going into overdrive on the issue, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and the Indian government's chief negotiator on the safeguards agreement, Dr. A. Grover, categorically assuaged all doubts, concerns and inhibitions posed by the Left and other opposition parties on the proposed deal, and did not mince words in emphatically stating that the procedure being followed by the negotiating team was above board and open to scrutiny.
Commencing proceedings, Narayanan stated that while there was a political aspect to the over three-year-long deliberations, he would very much like the media to keep "politics out of it", and dwell on the actual aspects of the text of the draft safeguards agreement to be forwarded to the Board of Governors of the IAEA on or by July 28.
He candidly stated that Dr. Kakodkar and Dr. Grover were the right persons to brief the media on any aspect of the proposed safeguards agreement, and added that he would step in as and when required.
Dr. Grover said that there were three parts to the draft safeguards agreement - (1) General Considerations, which dealt with specific Indian requirements for considering civil nuclear cooperation with other countries, including the United States, (2) Safeguards Procedures, which outlined the relevant guidelines for an India-specific safeguards by the IAEA and (3) Miscellaneous Aspects, which related to issues like visa procedures for IAEA inspectors, financing control, application of agreements and settlement of disputes etc.
The draft safeguards agreement, he said, is essentially an "Umbrella Agreement applicable to all civil nuclear facilities in India".
When asked whether the preamble of the text of the draft safeguards agreement had legal sanctity, Foreign Secretary Menon said that this agreement had all prescribed aspects of a similar pact that was certified and approved by the IAEA as far back as 1969, and added that there was a clear and defined link between the preamble and the draft text.
Narayanan added that: "Nobody could draw erroneous conclusions out of it (the draft text)".
Dr. Grover further described it as a standalone document that would be discussed and deliberated by the IAEA Board of Governors under the 66th type template, which was meant for non-NPT states, as India was not a member of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
When the panel was asked whether any measures had been put in place to ensure uninterrupted supply of civil nuclear fuel from the IAEA, Dr. Kakodkar said that the IAEA was not the agency to supply the fuel. It was only responsible for "facilitating the procedure for India to move forward and negotiate with other countries for civil nuclear fuel supply. The IAEA would only create a bank or an avenue to ensure that countries in agreement with each other, supplied the fuel."
He further said that in this case, the supplier agreement was between the supplier and India, and added that supply of foreign nuclear fuel "is always put under IAEA safeguards".
In this agreement, we have strongly connected to a safeguards pact with the IAEA to ensure continuity of fuel supply," Dr. Kakodkar said.
To question on whether India could ever think of withdrawing its civilian nuclear reactors from the safeguards agreement for reasons of fuel supply shortage or security, Dr. Grover said there were several articles in the preamble of the text of the draft safeguards agreement such as Article s 4, 10(4) 13 and 30(F) that had factored in such extraneous eventualities, but he did not visualise such a situation emerging.
On the question of whether sustained fuel supply could be ensured in perpetuity to safeguard stockpiles, Dr. Kakodkar said: "Discontinuity of fuel supply cannot happen suddenly. There is inbuilt corrective action. Responses have to be calibrated. Any reactor that India declares as civilian, and one of the tests is that the reactor should be eligible for civil nuclear cooperation."
He also said that there should be no doubt that "we (India) are a nuclear weapons state."
"Definitions embedded in NPT, we should not be worried about. We are talking about civil nuclear cooperation. It is a program of cooperation that is outside the strategic program, which is insulated." he added.
Specifically replying to a question on fuel supply corrections and assurances, Dr. Kakodkar said there was no guarantee for perpetual supply and there was no perpetuity of safeguards, suggesting that the potential existed for amendments as and when required in time.
Narayanan emphatically sought to clear the air about the 123 Agreement and the Hyde Act, which has generated the most opposition from the Left and other non-UPA political constituents. He said that while the Hyde Act is a U.S. Act determining the role of Washington vis-...-vis nuclear cooperation, the 123 Agreement is a India-U.S. agreement that defined how both countries would cooperate on issues related to their bilateral civil nuclear deal, as and when it is activated.
Kakodkar said that as far the export of nuclear items was concerned, Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) countries have to follow the guidelines set down by the 45-member NSG.
In this context, India, he said, has a very credible export control regime in place, and within that regime, she could tap cooperation and simultaneously insist on IAEA safeguards.
On the issue of IPR rights, he said India would be the sole authority to determine which of its nuclear reactors is civilian and which is not, and there was no question of putting Fast Breeder Test Reactors (FBTRs) under safeguards. The safeguards agreement was being put in place to ensure that there was no diversion of fuel.
When asked what the government plans to do next and whether any of the countries approached for support had expressed reservations, Foreign Secretary Menon said: "We go to the IAEA Board with the text of the draft safeguards agreement. If they approve the safeguards agreement, then we go to the NSG, which has to give a clean exemption."
Only then, would the next step of Indo-American negotiations take place to be followed by submission of the agreed text to the U.S. Congress for its approval.
He said that 19 members of the IAEA Board were members of the 45-nation NSG, and at this stage, the Indian Government is hopeful of gaining the required support to see the agreement through both the IAEA and the NSG.
"We have to keep working at this. No predictions can be made about the future," he said.
Narayanan chipped in by saying that India was still at liberty to decide when it would activate the deal, adding that it could still take another three years from now.
"All necessary conditions have to be met before we can operationalise the deal," he said.
When Dr. Kakodkar was asked whether additional land was being sought for building more nuclear reactors, he replied in the affirmative, saying that India possessed the infrastructural ability to build six, nine, even 10 to 12 nuclear reactors.
This depended on negotiations, he said, adding that the Atomic Energy Act as of today permits promotion of power generation business by a government-backed company in which the government has as 51 percent stake.
"We of course want to increase nuclear power generation. It is an ongoing process. Adding more units at existing sites and also at new sites takes time, anywhere between two to four years," he said. By Ashok Dixit