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US to ask fuel back if India conducts nuke test

By Staff
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Washington, July 28: The American President, under the US Atomic Energy Act, has the right to ask for the return of nuclear fuel and nuclear technologies if there is a nuclear test by India, said US Under Secretary for Political Affairs R Nicholas Burns.

''That right-of-return has been, of course, preserved as it must be under our law, and there has been no change in how we understand the rights of the American President and the American government. It has been fully respected by this,'' he said.

Mr Burns made these observations when a correspondent at a press conference yesterday drew his attention to the Hyde Act that had made it very clear that if India were to test a nuclear weapon, that US cooperation with India should cease and wanted to know, ''if you are giving India assurances that there will be no interruption in its fuel supplies, regardless of what happens, how does that comply with the law? '' Driving his point home, Mr Burns said, ''first of all, we were very careful when we began the latest phase of these negotiations to remind the Indian government that since the President and Prime Minister had their two agreements of July 2005 and March 2006, something else had happened. The Congress had debated over six, seven months those agreements and the Congress has passed the Hyde Act. And so we had to make sure that everything in this US-India civil nuclear agreement, the 123 Agreement, was completely consistent with the Hyde Act and well within the bounds of the Hyde Act itself.'' ''When we briefed Congress this week, we said we were confident that was the case,'' he said.

Mr Burns recalled that, ''in March 2006, when the President met with Prime Minister Singh in Delhi, he offered four specific assurances to the Indian government that we wanted to help it try to achieve a continuity of fuel supply. And those assurances are built in. The ones that we announced publicly in March 2, 2006, are now built into the 123 Agreement. And they are very much consistent with the fact that we have a positive view of our future civil nuclear cooperation with India. We expect it to continue in a positive direction.'' ''But, you know, when you write an agreement the way we have, and when you have legions of lawyers on both sides of the table, you also build in protection -- both sides do -- to meet your legal obligations. And so if there's ever any reason for the United States to have to invoke the right-of-return, we could certainly do so,'' he said.

Mr Burns said, ''On the second question, on reprocessing consent rights, this was a major issue, in fact the principal major issue, in this last phase of negotiations over the last few months. The United States has committed in the past, in these 123 agreements, to confer reprocessing consent with Japan and with EURATOM.'' ''We thought very hard about going down this road with the Indian Government. We decided to for two reasons. First, in late May, early June, the Indians came to us and said that they were ready to build a new state-of-the-art reprocessing facility that would be under IAEA safeguards and that any reprocessing of spent fuel would be done in conjunction with that new facility, fully safeguarded, fully transparent to the IAEA and to the United States and to the international community. That was a significant development in the negotiations,'' he said.

Mr Burns said, ''Second, Section 131 of the Atomic Energy Act, of course, calls for subsequent arrangements in reprocessing, arrangements in procedures, that would need to be agreed upon before the reprocessing could actually take place. So with the new facility promised by India under IAEA safeguards and with the subsequent arrangements and procedures, we believe it's a deal that makes sense to the United States.''

He said, ''It allows India to go forward in a way fully within the Hyde Act, to complete the kind of activities that it wants to undertake, but it allows us to do so in a way where we're fully protected, not only by our law, but also by the IAEA provisions for this facility.'' He said these were two factors that were not in place a year ago.

There was no talk of a new reprocessing facility a year ago. It had just been in the last two months that this has materialised.

''We looked at it very carefully and decided that, on that basis, we should go ahead, that it was in our interest to go ahead. And that is, as you'll see as we brief this more -- in more detail, that is fully written into the new agreement,'' Mr Burns said.

When a correspondent suggested that the fact that the US has in a sense assured India of sort of permanent fuel supplies, even if it were to test, he responded by saying, ''it's hard for me to deal in hypotheticals.'' He, however, said, ''the fact is that American law insists that the right of return be preserved, and we have preserved that in this 123 Agreement with India. The fact is also that we hope and trust that it won't be necessary for India to test in the future, and we hope and trust that we can go ahead with full civil nuclear cooperation. And so the basis of this agreement is the positive affirmation that we seek to build full civil nuclear cooperation.'' ''But in the event of any kind of hypothetical disruption of supply, and there is lots of different hypothetical examples that might lead to an interruption of supply, we know it's important for the Indians to have a continuous supply of fuel. And that's why a year and a half ago President Bush offered the four fuel assurances that have been written into this law,'' Mr Burns said.

''But none of that contradicts or conflicts with the legal right of any American President in the future to insist on the right of return. That's preserved. That's preserved. But that's preserved for the worst case hypothetical event in the future,'' he said.

The US official said, ''what we expect is that we'll have full civil nuclear cooperation, that these hypothetical scenarios will not come into play over the next several years, and that we'll be able to build the kind of positive cooperation that these fuel assurances will help to bring about.'' He acknowledged that this dedicated reactor was sort of a turning point in the negotiations.

Asked whether it was an India-specific deal, Mr Burns said, ''this is complicated enough, I can assure you, that the United States is not going to suggest a similar deal with any other country in the world. We've always felt of India as an exception.'' ''We've made the argument that India has not proliferated its nuclear technology; that India, in effect, outside the system, has played by the rules and that the system would be strengthened by bringing it in. But we're not anticipating, in any way, shape or form, a similar deal for any other country,'' Mr Burns said.

UNI

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