IAEA considers Indian nuclear inspection agreement crucial
Saturday, 02 August 2008

US-India pact

AP, VIENNA, Austria_ An inspection agreement crucial to a landmark nuclear deal between India and the United States came under scrutiny Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The pact calls for allowing the sale of atomic fuel and technology to India, a country that has not signed international nonproliferation accords and has tested nuclear weapons. It would be a reversal of more than three decades of U.S. policy.

The 35-nation IAEA board of governors meeting Friday is expected to approve it, despite criticism that ambiguous wording in the deal could end up limiting international oversight of India's reactors, and possibly help supply its arms programs with fissile material.

The deal would effectively allow U.N. monitors access to 14 of India's 22 existing or planned nuclear reactors by 2014.

Without safeguards of the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear agency, India cannot import nuclear technology from Nuclear Suppliers Group nations, including the U.S.

In his opening statement, IAEA Chief Mohamed ElBaradei said the agreement was not comprehensive or full in scope but he appeared to give his backing. "It satisfies India's needs while maintaining all of the agency's legal requirements," he said.

Noting the deal was of indefinite duration, he said the agency expected to start implementing it at new facilities in 2009.

To implement the deal, India must strike separate agreements with the IAEA and with the Nuclear Suppliers Group before it can go to the U.S. Congress for approval.

On Friday, the chief U.S. envoy to the IAEA, Gregory L. Schulte, stressed that the elements of the India safeguards agreement were little different to others that have come before the board and were swiftly adopted.

"Under this agreement, safeguards would be applied to nuclear facilities in India using the same methods as applied elsewhere in the world," Schulte told the board.

"Without this agreement, the safeguards activities and the assurance of peaceful use provided by them, will not be possible," Schulte said, adding the accord had been carefully negotiated by high-level IAEA officials.

But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said the deal raises fundamental questions and needs clarification.

"The question is: Can India end safeguards if fuel supplies are interrupted, even if they've conducted a nuclear test, or does the agreement require permanent, unconditional safeguards?"

Pakistan, India's neighboring archrival, has been vocal in its opposition to the deal. The two nuclear-armed countries have fought three wars since independence in 1947.

In a letter to members of the IAEA board and the NSG, Islamabad warned that the safeguards agreement "threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent."

The deal is considered one of President Bush's top foreign policy initiatives, and the administration is eager to tie up loose ends before leaving office. Diplomats said Washington has been lobbying heavy handedly to quell potential detractors ahead of Friday's vote.

Some analysts argue the U.S.-India deal reinforces the perception of a double standard for the nonproliferation regime.

"It strengthens the impression that there are 'good' and 'bad' non-proliferators," said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation Program for the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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