The unseemly backside of the India-U.S. nuclear deal

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MOSCOW,(Gennady Evstafiev, RIA Novosti)

The dust has hardly had a chance to settle over the celebration of the "strategic" U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, when troublesome reefs, until now concealed under the tide of the traditional American euphoria over a sealed bargain, began to inhibit the deal from going forward as the tide ebbs.

Indians are not too ignorant about the decision-making process in America to believe that the deal will be ratified fast. Predictably, the power of businesses lured by the $100-billion prospects has come across public concern over consistency with the U.S. Atomic Energy Act and the commitment to keep from dealing with abstainers from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Indians knew that to have the treaty ratified, U.S. President George W. Bush would have to spend a lot of time in a stiff-necked Congress.

The battle has begun. In a first move that could teach Russian businesses a good lesson, the U.S.-India Business Council has hired Patton Boggs, one of Washington's top and most expensive lobbyists, to push through amendments to the existing legislation enabling full-fledged nuclear cooperation with India.

This, however, is a long-term goal. To define what steps to take in order to meet everybody's interests will surely take U.S. lawmakers some time. Right now, the tactical objective is more important and is therefore immediately employed - to "rightfully" undermine the competition.

Russia has helped India before, delivering - in an exclusion to nonproliferation rules - some nuclear fuel to its Tarapur nuclear power plant. Russia's intention to do that again with what is in fact a really small amount of fuel provoked an outcry from U.S. officials. On the grounds that everyone needs to be "clean in the face of the international community", they have described the Indo-Russian deal as unjustified and untimely, insisting that Russia and India should wait for the outcome of congressional proceedings.

Ironically, the U.S., which helped India build the Tarapur NPP back in 1969, nearly starved the Indian reactors of fuel together with its politically biased allies some time later. While the U.S. surely knows what could happen if Russia, seeing the emergency as a threat to nuclear safety, had not saved Tarapur, what is going on now will no doubt repeat many times.

That the U.S. is trying to use a non-ratified document to elbow its way past competition is, however, just the tip of the iceberg. More importantly, it now turns out that the Bush Administration has long known that its nuclear experts - notably, influential Senator Richard G. Lugar and, in a most recent case, president of the Institute For Science And International Security (ISIS) David Albright - were heavily concerned over what George W. Bush described as the "impeccable" Indian proliferation record.

Not trying to uphold or stand up to the U.S. claims, it is clear that probably the most interesting part in the Indo-American nuclear game is still to come. The U.S. Congress has long been known to be divided on Cirus, a major Indian reactor working on U.S.-supplied heavy water and reportedly serving as a source of weapons-grade plutonium for India's military nuclear program. Though the State Department has said a final conclusion has yet to be drawn, Cirus was excluded from the list of 14 local sites India vowed to open for the IAEA and, under pressure from the U.S., American nuclear inspectors.

Now that Washington is resurfacing its long-standing concerns, the future seems clear enough: as soon as Americans visit Indian nuclear sites with notebooks in hand, the Indians might face big problems in terms of the secrecy of their military effort and the availability of dual-use technologies for peaceful purposes.

It is also easy to understand who will do this sort of inspecting. One source highlighting American inspection methods is a book that describes what was probably the most insolent abuse of international trust ever - "Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein," written recently by Scott Ritter, former head of the UN Security Council Special Commission on Iraq and famous investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.

Moreover, Albright from ISIS has already named Indian Rare Earth Ltd. of Bombay as the first potential victim of U.S. proliferation action that will likely involve accusations of shopping abroad for rare materials and restricted know-how for a covert centrifuge activity near Mysore.

All this suggests India is in for a good spell of U.S. proliferation pressure. Seeking Indian support for its strategic foreign policy objectives, Washington is clearly demonstrating that it will look to the new nuclear deal for leverage, even though the deal has yet to be enforced. Much now depends on how strong other Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories will be as many members of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, with its strict international nuclear monitoring regime, already object to making an exception for India solely in the interests of the U.S. In any case, what is clear right now is that any U.S. compromise on India's status might turn out to be cost-prohibitive for New Delhi.

In this context, the right thing to do would be not to leave India's nuclear future in the hands of such a slippery partner.

(Gennady Evstafiev retired from Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service with the rank of Lieutenant General.)

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