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US certifies India-IAEA Safeguards Agreement on civil nuclear facilities

By Aziz Haniffa
Last updated on: February 04, 2010 10:09 IST
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In yet another step towards full implementation of the United States-India civilian nuclear deal -- which the Obama administration has been accused in some quarters of not being fully committed to -- US President Barack Obama on Wednesday issued a memorandum certifying the agreement between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency of the Safeguards Agreement on India's civilian nuclear facilities.

In a presidential memorandum released by the White House in the typical legal jargon, addressed to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be inserted in the Federal Register (which makes it public, including to the US Congress, as required by the US-India accord), Obama wrote, "I hereby determine and certify that:

1. The agreement between the government of India and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the application of safeguards to civilian nuclear facilities, as approved by the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency on August 1, 2008 (the 'Safeguards Agreement'), has entered into force; and

2. The government of India has filed a declaration of facilities pursuant to paragraph 13 of the Safeguards Agreement that is not materially inconsistent with the facilities and schedule described in paragraph 14 of the Separation Plan present in the national Parliament of India on May, 11, 2006, taking into account the later initiation of safeguards that was anticipated in the Separation Plan."

Thus, he authorized and directed Clinton 'to publish this determination in the Federal Register'

Administration officials, at the time the deal was being debated in the Congress more than four years ago, would always point to India's acquiescing to enter into this Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA as 'a nonproliferation plus.'

The US state department in its report to Congress in support of the agreement, also said the Safeguards Agreement between India and the IAEA would prevent India from using its civil nuclear facilities for its nuclear weapons program, as some critics had argued.

It also described the various safeguards in place in the US export control laws that would necessarily also preclude exported US dual-use nuclear technologies from being diverted for military purposes.

US administration officials also strongly defended the Separation Plan as 'credible and defensible' because it covered more than just token number of India's civilian nuclear facilities, and also provided for safeguards in perpetuity and included upstream and downstream facilities.

But critics continued to hold that India was being allowed broad latitude in determining which of its facilities it would put under international safeguards. This was a privilege accorded currently only to nuclear weapons states who are signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which India is not, as it believes the NPT is discriminatory.

However, at the time, one of India's strongest supporters and one who endorsed the US-India deal, outgoing IAEA director general Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, pointed out that he has 'always advocated concrete and practical steps towards the universal application of IAEA safeguards' and that there were 'additional safety benefits' of putting more of Indian facilities under safeguards.

Obama administration officials are hoping that the deal can be initialed when President Obama visits India sometime this summer, as exclusively reported by last week.

During a joint press conference with Obama at the White House on November 24, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said Obama had assured him of his 'full and complete' commitment to implementation of the US-India nuclear deal.

Dr Singh also declared, "I am confident and I have the assurance of the US President that this process will be over without much further loss of time."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC