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Experts divided on Indo-US civilian nuclear accord

Written by: Staff

Washington, Apr 27 (UNI) Experts on nuclear policy here were sharply divided on Bush administration's rationale in agreeing to provide India civilian nuclear technology, saying the preferential treatment given to India could erode the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the United States' goal of preventing spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Eight experts, drawn from across the US, testified before the Senate foreign Relations Committee here yesterday on the pros and cons of the agreement concluded during President George W Bush's visit to India last month.

It would give India, which has not signed the NPT, access for the first time in three decades to the US and foreign nuclear technology, including fuel and reactors, to meet India's growing civilian energy needs in return for its pledge to open its non-military nuclear facilities to international inspections.

To become effective the deal must be approved by the US Congress and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which regulates global trade in nuke technology and equipment.

Critics of the deal, led by Gary Milhollin, Director, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Robert L Gallucci, Dean Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, questioned the Bush administration's move to give away ''virtually all that India wanted, including the ability to enrich and process uranium for weapons,'' while the US got only ''speculation and a hope that a stronger partnership with India will pay strategic dividends down the road.'' Other critics of the deal were Ronald F Lehman, director of the Centre for Global Security Research in California, and Robert Einhorn, Senior adviser international security program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Most of the experts were against any move to re-negotiate the deal but at least four of them, including Mr Robert L Gallucci, Mr Robert Einhorn and Mr Gary Milhollin, wanted the Congress to impose conditions or extract concrete commitments from India before putting its seal of approval on the deal.

They wanted India to stop producing fissile material for nuclear weapons, join the US and others to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions and that the US Congress should insist on seeing the IAEA-India safeguards agreements and a concluded Indo-US agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation. All of them felt that the Bush administration ''had given away too much in return for nothing.'' They also mentioned that ''the lenient US treatment of India, which has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,'' might encourage would-be nuclear weapons states and possibly spur a nuclear arms race in South Asia.

Mr Robert Gallucci, who is also a former State Department official told the Senate Committee that the deal could seriously weaken efforts to fight proliferation. ''I do not believe we are simply eroding the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime now. We are trashing it, in my view,'' he said.

Mr Gary Milhollin, said the Bush administration is more interested in forging closer commercial ties with India and its booming economy than in protecting export controls on nuclear technology.

He said the deal could create a troublesome precedent ''If the US decides to drop controls to help one of its friends, in this case India, other supplier countries will do the same for their friends.

China will drop controls on its friend Pakistan, and Russia will drop controls on its friend Iran. There is no way to convince either China or Russia not to do that.'' MORE UNI XC SC KP1102

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