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India hints at signing CTBT

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC
March 23, 2009 22:46 IST
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India will most likely sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty--a top non-proliferation priority of the Obama Administration--if the world moves "categorically towards nuclear disarmament in a credible time-frame," India's point man for nuclear issues has indicated.

Shyam Saran, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Special Envoy for Nuclear Issues and Climate Change, headlining a major conference organized by The Brookings Institution titled, The US-India Nuclear Agreement: Expectations and Consequences, acknowledged that the CTBT is "an issue that has been seen as potentially, a contentious one in our relations with the new US Administration," and one that "President Obama has made clear that he will seek Senate ratification of, which the US has signed, and India has not".

"He has also promised to launch a 'diplomatic effort to bring on board other states whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force,'" Saran noted, quoting Obama's own words on his commitment to the CTBT, which he articulated in his letter of September 23, 2008 to Prime Minister Singh on the day of the latter's arrival in the US to meet with then President George W Bush.

Saran, an erstwhile  Foreign Secretary pointed out that "India has been a consistent votary of a CTBT but did not sign the CTBT as it eventually emerged because it was not explicitly linked to the goal of nuclear disarmament. For India, this was crucial since it was not acceptable to legitimize, in any way, a permanent division between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states."

He said that the "other reason was the manner in which the CTBT was pushed through, bypassing the Conference on Disarmament, which works by consensus, and bringing the issue before the UN General Assembly. This was done to over-ride Indian objections and was justifiably seen in India as a not too subtle attempt to foreclose India's options."

"Additionally," Saran noted, "India was included in a category of states whose signature and ratification was deemed necessary in order for the Treaty to come into force, again an unusual provision, directed at putting international pressure on India to join a Treaty whose provisions it did not agree with."

Thus, he explained that "it was against this background that India did not sign the CTBT," but said however, that since the Pokhran tests in May 1998, "India has observed a unilateral and voluntary moratorium and is committed to its continuance."

"This is spelt out in the Indo-US Joint Statement of 2005," he added. Consequently, Saran said, "It is also our conviction that if the world moves categorically towards nuclear disarmament in a credible time-frame, then Indo-US differences over the CTBT would probably recede into the background."

The CTBT, was the major foreign policy initiative of the second term of the Clinton Administration, and it was no secret that it held out the lifting of the sanctions imposed on India after its Pokhran tests as a quid pro quo for New Delhi's signing of the CTBT. But, India, which was under tremendous pressure at the time, got off the hook, when the then Republican-controlled Senate refused to ratify the Treaty, much to the chagrin of President Clinton.

But, now, with the return of the Clinton Administration's nonproliferation hawks holding top positions in the Obama Administration, the CTBT has been marked up as a major foreign policy priority, and both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made clear that they will keep pushing for its Senate ratification and also launch a major diplomatic offensive to get other non-signatories like India to come on board.

At the outset of his remarks, after being introduced by Strobe Talbott, president of Brookings and former Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration, Saran, who was the original interlocutor of the negotiations on the Indian side of the US-India civilian nuclear deal during his avatar as Foreign Secretary, said, the direct fall-out from the US-India nuclear deal would be "the significant business opportunities it opens up for our two countries."

He said that "India has already conveyed a letter of intent for upto 10,000 megawatts of US nuclear power reactors at sites that are currently under examination within our Government. State governments, where the potential sites are being considered, will need to be consulted. The good news is that in India, being chosen as a site for nuclear power, is a privilege most states aspire to, unlike the controversy such decisions are dogged by in other countries," he said.

Saran asked American business and industry keep on investing in India's nuclear energy market, regarding India's expeditious signing on to the International Convention on Civil Nuclear Liability, said, "I understand that the inter-agency process within government has been concluded."

"India plans to increase substantially its nuclear power production capacity," he said, and added, "international cooperation in civil nuclear energy will be an important means to achieve this goal. Therefore, we see joining the international nuclear liability convention as being in our interest and hope to do this soon."

Saran however, noted, "In any event, this does not prevent US companies from engaging their Indian counterparts already to prepare the ground for substantial nuclear commerce." Meanwhile, he said that "on the US side, we await the early commencement of our dialogue on arrangements to give effect to our right to reprocess US origin spent fuel," and added that it was New Delhi's understanding that the new Obama Administration "is ready to engage with us at an early date."

Saran said that another trade-generating fall-out of the nuclear deal which is sometimes "neglected in our discourse over its merits," was the prohibition over the years "on the transfer to India of nuclear-related items, soon expanded significantly, to cover a very broad range of dual-use items and technology."

He argued that "with the opening up of nuclear commerce with India, there is a need now to review and remove these unnecessary restrictions on international trade with India on dual-use items and technology," and predicted that "as India's economy matures and its industry moves into higher end manufacturing, the demand for high technology goods and services is destined for a major boost."

"And, the US, of course, remains the preferred source of such goods and services," he said. "It is also our hope that the so-called Entity List, which still prohibits sale of US technology and goods to a number of Indian high-tech companies, will be scrapped, sooner rather than later. The positive impact of a more liberal technology trade regime is already beginning to make an impact on India's sourcing of defense hardware from the US."

While acknowledging that India has not been totally immune to the global financial and economic crisis and will also find its growth rate going down by 2 or 3 percentage points during the next couple of years, Saran however asserted that "energy and defense will remain at the top of out national agenda and this should encourage the US to look at India as a welcome source of demand for its goods and services, even as the global economy contracts."

He said 10,000 megawatts of nuclear energy could very well "translate into $150 billion worth of projects with significant business opportunities and potential collaboration for both Indian and US companies. This would also result in significant and high quality job creation in both our countries."

Saran said, "If India maintains its current level of defense spending to achieve its medium and long-term goals of force upgradation, then a growing part of the expected 10 year acquisition plan of $120 billion could be reoriented towards the US."

"This will require the US to overcome lingering Indian doubts about the reliability of US supplies," he said, and argued that as a result, "simultaneously, both of us need to work together to find a mutually acceptable solution which will take care of US legal requirements about end use monitoring of transferred defense articles and also meet our sensitivities."

Saran predicted that he was "certain we will be able to do so quickly given our past experiences and also given the interest both our countries have in strengthening this relationship."

On the larger nuclear domain, the senior Indian official said that thanks to the civil nuclear deal, "we are now, potentially, at a different level of engagement of these hitherto sensitive and even contentious issues, compared to the past," on issues of nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament.

Saran said, "For India, the US acknowledgment, endorsed by consensus by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, that India's nonproliferation record and its current credentials are impeccable, has given the country a welcome sense of vindication. From being an outlier, India is now accepted as a partner in the global nuclear domain."

"The success of the civil nuclear initiative has engendered a sense of assurance and confidence which enables us to look, proactively and not defensively, at a new global agenda for nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament," he said.

Thus, he said a number of initiatives proposed by President Obama during the presidential campaign, and since his inauguration, had "caught the attention of Indian policymakers," and could very well "become the agenda for a substantive Indo-US engagement on nuclear security issues."

Saran said these could include universal nuclear disarmament which President Obama had said would be a "central element of US nuclear policies," that corresponds "neatly with our own long-standing advocacy of nuclear disarmament as one of the highest priority for the international community."

Also on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, where, he said, "India has held a consistent position and envisages it as a significant contribution to nuclear nonproliferation in all its aspects."

"We have encouraged the negotiation and early conclusion of a multilateral, universally applicable and effectively verifiable treaty on Fissile Material Cut-Off at the Conference on Disarmament," Saran said.

Saran also spoke about Nuclear Weapons and Terrorism, becoming a major Indo-US agenda item and pointed out that "India is one of the countries taking the lead in raising international awareness of the dangers inherent in the possible link between Weapons of Mass Destruction and international terrorism."

"The possible acquisition, through clandestine means, of nuclear weapons or other WMDs, by terrorist and jihadi groups, adds an entirely new dimension to the nuclear threat, a threat which cannot be deterred by the doctrines of retaliatory use," he argued.

Saran said that "for as long as there is a world divided between nuclear weapon haves and have-nots, there will always be the danger of proliferation to additional countries. This is what gives rise to a clandestine network of the kind run from Pakistan and which creates potential sources of supplies for terrorist or jihadi groups."

He warned that "the greatest likelihood of such a threat emanates from our neighborhood," but said, "what is encouraging, from an Indian perspective, is President Obama's clear recognition of this danger and his willingness to confront it with a sense of urgency."

Saran lauded Obama for his commitment "to working together with other concerned countries in developing and implementing a comprehensive set of standards to protect nuclear materials from terrorist threat".

Recalling Obama's remarks during the campaign about his intent to convene a summit on preventing nuclear terrorism, the Indian diplomat said India was willing to work together with the US "on this shared concern, which to us, living in a dangerous neighborhood, is of great importance."

Saran also referred to President Obama's plans to expand the Proliferation Security Initiative "from its current focus on stopping illicit nuclear shipments to eradicating nuclear market networks, like the remnants of the Abdul Qadeer Khan organization," and said it was his (Saran's) own belief  that India, though not yet a member of PSI, "should have an open mind on joining the PSI and in supporting its expanded mandate as envisaged by President Obama."

He said that "this fits in very well with India's own concern over clandestine proliferation, especially in our own neighborhood, and the likelihood of such clandestine activities facilitating the acquisition of nuclear weapons or fissile material, by a terrorist or a jihadi group".

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC