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Indo-US nuclear deal not a template for Iran talks, says Clinton

By Aziz Haniffa
October 22, 2009 12:20 IST

The Obama Administration has reiterated its strong commitment to the US-India civilian nuclear deal consummated during the tenure of the previous George W Bush Administration and said it's "embedded" in a broader strategic dialogue between Washington and New Delhi, but contended it's certainly not a template for negotiations with the likes of Iran.

In an interaction that followed a major foreign policy speech on nuclear nonproliferation at the US Institute of Peace, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked what the Obama Administration believed that the Indo-Us nuclear deal could serve as a template for negotiations with Iran.

Several nonproliferation hawks, who were vehemently against the US-India nuclear deal, now serve in the Obama Administration argued that the Indo-US nuke accord  would lead to a nuclear arms race in South Asia, and undermine Washington's efforts to stem proliferation by North Korea and Iran by establishing a precedent in providing India an exemption to avail itself of nuclear reactors, fuel and sophisticated technology even though it had not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Leading the charge with such arguments were former Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, now Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Gary Samore, now the nonproliferation czar at the White House National Security Council, and Robert Einhorn, now the senior nonproliferation adviser to Clinton.

The Bush Administration, however, at the time dismissed such arguments saying India had an impeccable track record on nonproliferation and could not be compared to 'rogue nation's such as Iran and North Korea.

Clinton in answering the question said, "Let me begin by responding that the (US-India) nuclear accord, which we support--I supported it as a Senator, the Obama Administration supports it as a government--is embedded in a broader strategic dialogue that we are engaged in with the Indians."

She said that "we view our relationship's one that is comprehensive and very deep in terms of the issues that we wish to explore with our Indian counterparts and the areas where we are either already or look to cooperate."

"I think it is very significant that the first official visit in the Obama Administration will be in November when Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh arrives," she said. Clinton pointed out that "the agreement is one that reflects the negotiations between India and the United States," and asserted that "we're not going to claim or use it as a template in its specifics."

But, she acknowledged that "in general, the kinds of efforts to offer peaceful nuclear energy, while at the same time having safeguards and verification that will prevent others from going beyond the peaceful use of nuclear energy, is something that we are looking at very closely." Clinton said, "The so-called 123 agreements that have been negotiated or are in the midst of being negotiated with other countries raise a lot of the same issues."

"So, as I said in my remarks earlier," she noted, "the goal here is to create a better verification and safeguard regime to look for ways to provide the fuel cycle that doesn't spin into its use for non-peaceful purposes."

And Clinton declared, "Obviously, we have a lot of confidence in the Indians and a lot of confidence in their approach," and added: "We are going to be working closely with them, including American companies that will be part of implementing the reactor sites that are part of the agreement."

"But, we want India to be part of our overall nonproliferation efforts," she said. "And, we want them to really be a major player at the table in trying to figure out how, starting from where we are right now, we go forward in an effective, verifiable manner to reinstate a nonproliferation regime that can prevent further countries acquiring nuclear weapons, or even peaceful nuclear capacity without the safeguards that we envision."

Thus, Clinton said the Obama Administration viewed India "as a full partner in this effort, and we look forward to working with them as we try to come up with the 21st century version of the NPT."

Privately, Administration sources have acknowledged that for starters, the US wants India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, but concede that they do not foresee India acquiescing to any of these entreaties by Washington till the US Senate itself approves the CTBT, which it rejected during the tenure of the Clinton Administration, when the US Congress was Republican-controlled.

Asked to address the question of what happens to the Obama Administration's grandiose nonproliferation objectives if the Senate chooses not to ratify the CTBT, Clinton acknowledged that "we are well aware that we have our work cut out for us."

She recalled that "the CTBT was rejected 10 years ago," when it was the major foreign policy initiative of her husband, President Bill Clinton's Administration, "and it has not been brought up since then."

"The fact is we've essentially had a moratorium on testing. It's been bipartisan through these four administrations over these last 20 years. And, we recognize the legitimate questions that some in the Senate have posed about how we take steps to ensure the sustainability and effectiveness of our nuclear stockpile without testing. But from our perspective, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, sets out a global standard that we would like to be part of, and its gives us the tools that we could use to go after other countries that have not signed up to the CTBT and have the same in-depth discussion as to why we believe it's not necessary for any further testing—atmospheric, underground, both."

Consequently, Clinton asserted that "our view is that it's the right thing to do, it reflects already existing policy in our country, that there are technical fixes to having to test that will guarantee us the stewardship of the stockpile that we are putting forth, and that it will give us the opportunity to make our case with other nations."

Congressional sources have told that Tauscher, Samore and Einhorn have been regularly up on Capitol Hill pushing these technical arguments with Senators either opposed or sitting on the fence, to come out in support for the CTBT.

And, before Samore joined the Administration and was the director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, he had told that if the Senate approves the CTBT and the US, which has been given a private understanding by China that it would sign it if the Senate gives the accord the green light, India would be hard pressed not to sign in because it would not just the US that would be calling on India to do so, but the international community as a whole.

In August, Robert Blake, the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, asked if the likes of Tauscher, Samore, and Einhorn who have been described as nonproliferation ayatollahs  wouldn't necessarily work behind the scenes to push India to sign the CTBT, using the nuclear deal as a bargaining chip, said, "I wouldn't characterize people like Under Secretary Tauscher and Bob Einhorn and Gar Samore as nuclear ayatollahs."

Blake said, "these are people that have a great deal of experience, and Bob Einhorn and Gary Samore have worked a lot on India and have favorably known inside India." Blake argued that the "civil nuclear agreement unlocks the possibility for us to cooperate much more on some of these big global nonproliferation issues, and India wants to work on these issues with us and they've said so publicly. We welcome that, and Under Secretary Tauscher and Bob Einhorn and Gary and others will all be working in these dialogues with their Indian counterparts."

Blake recalled that "the President laid out a very ambitious agenda in Prague, outlining his vision for a world that is free of nuclear weapons," and pointed out that "Manmohan Singh at various times has echoed that vision, but of course one has to make sure that other countries in the region will also be part of that, and that's certainly perfectly understandable."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC