People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 17, 2007
Nuclear Deal: Don’t Hide The Hyde Act
THE latest round of negotiations with the United States on the nuclear cooperation deal have not resulted in an agreement. This is not because the Indian side did not try seriously enough. In the three days of talks with Nicholas Burns, the US Under Secretary of State, the UPA government tried desperately to reach some modicum of agreement on the contentious issues. The United States is seeking to extract further concessions by posing that there is 90 per cent agreement and only a few residual issues left.
However, if the UPA government is serious about adhering to the August 17, 2006 statement of the prime minister in parliament, then it has to admit that there is a stalemate in the talks. The United States is not willing to go by the commitment in the July 2005 joint statement of “full civilian nuclear cooperation” with India. Even though at the end of the talks, the foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, tried to sound positive by stating that the negotiations were “intensive, productive and constructive”, he had to admit that among the several issues “we have managed to remove some but some still remain”. The problem is that those issues that remain are still major and they are not resolvable because they stem from the legislation adopted by the US Congress, the Hyde Act.
It is clear that the United States is not conceding India’s right to reprocess the imported spent fuel. This reprocessing of spent fuel is essential for the country’s indigenous three-stage nuclear programme. Neither is the United States agreeable to guarantee continuing fuel supply to India if the agreement is nullified for some reason. This despite the fact that India will place its civilian nuclear reactors under permanent international safeguards. Further, the United States wants the return of all the nuclear equipment and fuel supplied in case India tests again, a condition to make the voluntary moratorium legally binding.
In this connection, the remarks of the foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, are noteworthy. In a television interview he has touched upon the problems posed by the US attitude and indicated that any compromise on these matters will not be acceptable to India.
The prime minister and the Congress leadership have invested a lot of importance to the nuclear cooperation agreement and they have doggedly pursued the deal disregarding the long-term interests of the country. The Hyde Act passed by the US Congress contain provisions which are not only going back on “civilian nuclear cooperation” but also dictates and sets out conditions for India’s foreign policy. Notwithstanding the repeated assertions that such conditions are “non-binding” and the “presidential signing statement” which purports to term the objectionable sections of the Act as “advisory”, the hard fact remains that a bilateral agreement signed under the auspices of this legislation will place India at the mercy of the president of the United States and the US Congress in the future, imperiling our national sovereignty and strategic autonomy. We will see a repetition of how India was coerced into voting against Iran twice in the IAEA. We can forget about pursuing an independent foreign policy.
The issues which are contentious cannot be resolved by diplomatic and verbal jugglery in the bilateral agreement. The CPI(M) had cautioned the government not to proceed with the 123 bilateral negotiations without the United States changing some of the provisions of the Hyde Act. Those who shamelessly advocate India becoming a strategic ally of the United States, see no harm in conceding on the vital issues for clinching the nuclear deal. But for most of the country the thought of tying India down hand and foot to the United States will be unacceptable. The UPA government is on test. It is to be hoped that they do not fail the test. Otherwise the consequences can be serious.