Islamabad’s fears with regard to Indo-US nuclear cooperation are baseless. How? After two years of toing and froing, New Delhi and Washington have reached 123 Agreement on nuclear cooperation and the pact seems to be full of loose ends.
Except a handful of people actually involved, no one knows what they discussed behind closed doors. Negotiations have been shrouded in unprecedented secrecy, unusual for a deal that is apparently only about civil nuclear energy cooperation.
It is surprising that Sonia Gandhi’s Congress is describing the deal as a “historic” agreement which recognises India as a de jure and de facto nuclear power, whereas mainstream Indian dailies are revealing that the US, besides upholding the primacy of its laws, has gained the right to unilaterally terminate cooperation with India at will and the right to take back all supplied items and materials. The “right of return” has been tactfully tied to any nuclear adventure by India. This means that India has to get America’s nod for a nuclear test even if the security environment has changed vis-à-vis China or Pakistan. And few would disagree that Beijing tends to be unpredictable when it reacts to America’s uncalled for antics in the region.
The US has granted India the right to reprocess only in principle. The grant of actual right would take many years, with the US retaining a veto on Indian reprocessing until then. Although “consultations” are referred to repeatedly in the deal’s text, in no context does the agreement provide for consultations to achieve a mutually acceptable outcome. Thus, the deal gives Washington an upper hand and New Delhi little say.
Nowhere does the agreement specifically permit India to accumulate lifetime fuel reserves as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had pledged in parliament. Therefore critics of the deal are not wrong that history is repeating itself. America cut off all fuel supply for Tarapur in the ’70s in material breach of the 123 agreement it signed in 1963. Now India is entering into new arrangements with its wings clipped and ambiguity or uncertainty on key issues.
It is difficult to say that how much India has lost vis-à-vis its strong strategic relations with Iran by bending backwards before the US. Nicholas Burns, the US pointperson for the controversial deal has already expressed his “hope” that India will not conclude any long-term oil and gas agreements with Iran, a direct reference to Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, which will clearly go into cold storage if the government wants the 123 to go through the US congress.
In September 2005, US coerced India to vote for Iran’s referral by the IAEA to the Security Council. It was a foreign policy disaster. It generated resentment and mistrust towards India in Iran, derailed already concluded LNG contract between New Delhi and Tehran and portrayed India as an unreliable strategic partner.
Iran matters greatly to India. After the wilful destruction of Iraq, Iran is the only country to India’s west that stands in the way of a complete US hegemony. Energy supplies from Iran will always be much more critical for India’s energy security than civil nuclear energy ever will be. Iran holds second largest oil and gas reserves.
With many in the Indian establishment ready to sell out the country’s interests to the Americans, it is time for the UPA chairperson, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister to wake up and smell the coffee. They can’t write off time-tested partnership with Iran and Russia in exchange for N-fuel alms from the US.
We shouldn’t lose woods for the trees. Should we?