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Published:July 27th, 2007 15:10 EST

U.S.-India pact, if approved by Congress, would pave way for nuclear trade

By SOP newswire

Washington – The United States and India reached an agreement July 27 to govern their cooperation in developing civil nuclear energy programs. It would allow the countries to cooperate in research and development and nuclear safety and to engage in commercial trade in nuclear reactors, technology and fuel.

The so-called “123 agreement" is mandated by U.S. law as a prerequisite for trade in nuclear materials and technology between the United States and any other country.

The agreement reaffirms commitments made by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during summit meetings in Washington and New Delhi in 2005 and 2006. (See related article.)

Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns, during a press briefing in Washington, called the agreement “the symbolic centerpiece of a growing global partnership between our two countries."

The agreement includes fuel supply assurances for India through the creation of an Indian strategic fuel reserve and a U.S. commitment to help India gain access to the international fuel market. However, it also would preserve the right for either country to terminate cooperation and request the return of all transferred materials if it appears the other country is not respecting its obligations.

The agreement contains mutual consent to reprocess spent fuel. Burns said the United States agreed to this provision after India pledged to build a new reprocessing facility and place it under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. This arrangement would prevent reprocessed fuel from being diverted to military use. The agreement also calls for supplementary arrangements to be drawn up before reprocessing can begin.

Burns stressed that the agreement in no way supports India’s military nuclear program. “[W]e cannot aid in the development of India's strategic program," he said, “but we can separate that program from the civil side and we can help India to take its country from a 3 percent reliance on nuclear power to something substantially greater in the future."

The assistant secretary said the agreement would bring several benefits to India, the United States and the international community. He said it aims to strengthen the international nuclear nonproliferation regime by bringing into the mainstream a country that always played by the rules even though it never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Under the terms of this agreement, India would open its facilities to international inspection.

It also would provide a clean energy source for India’s fast-growing economy, lowering its reliance on fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gasses. Burns added that the agreement would increase India’s energy security, reducing its dependence on fuel from countries like Iran.

Burns said there is a clear message in the agreement for countries like Iran that violate their obligations under the nonproliferation regime: “[I]f you behave responsibly in regards to nonproliferation and you play by the rules, you will not be penalized but will be invited to participate more fully in international nuclear trade."

There are three steps remaining before the 123 agreement can be implemented. First, India must negotiate safeguard agreements with the IAEA to govern its civil nuclear facilities. Second, the United States must obtain a consensus agreement from all of the nations in the international Nuclear Suppliers Group to allow India access to nuclear materials. After these steps have been completed, President Bush will send the agreement to Congress for its final approval.

“It's important to remember that the Congress has the final say on all of this," Burns said. He said the administration hopes it will be able to send the agreement to Congress for approval before the end of 2007.

For more information policy, see U.S.-India: Strengthening a Global Partnership.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer