Even with the text being made public, the questions and accusations of what India can do and what it can’t have failed to subside.
Last Saturday, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, Department of Atomic Energy secretary Dr Anil Kakodkar, and India’s chief negotiator with the IAEA Dr R B Grover met journalists and answered the persistent questions about the India-IAEA draft agreement.
Some of the pertinent technical questions were:
1. Can India test?
2. Will India’s reactors be under perpetual safeguards, even if fuel supply stops due to some reason or the other?
3. What about the Hyde Act, which seeks to put a lot of restrictions on India?
4. What will happen to India’s Intellectual Property Rights (its nuclear know-how)?
And the one political question:
5. Did the government hoodwink the Left and go to the IAEA behind its back?
The experts gave lucid explanations to all these questions (India can test, perpetuity of safeguards is tied with perpetuity of fuel supply, India’s technical know-how is safe and no, the UPA did not cheat the Left) and more.
Just what does the text of the agreement between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency say?
The text essentially consists of these parts: The preamble, the general considerations, safeguards procedure and miscellaneous considerations.
In the preamble India has embedded important concepts like sovereignty, nuclear activities and expanding international cooperation on a reliable, stable and predictable basis.
The general considerations are specific to India. The IAEA usually has an agreement for individual reactors, like for example India has for the Koodankulam reactor.
There is a departure from convention in the safeguards procedure. India and the IAEA will have an agreement that specifies 66 types of safeguards for all civilian reactors in the country. This is an umbrella agreement and applies to all civilian reactors and there won’t be any reactor-specific agreement.
The miscellaneous considerations consist of clauses for agency inspectors and settlement of disputes should they arise in the future.
What is the legal sanctity of the text?
The text is in keeping with the guidelines of the Vienna Convention. So there won’t be any legal trouble. “The entire text rose from the Vienna guidelines and stands on that one single pillar,” Narayanan said.
Kakodkar further explained that the 66 safeguards specified are applied to all non-NPT nations. “What we have done is instead of have an agreement for individual reactors, we told the IAEA to draw a single umbrella agreement that will cover all those reactors that India declares as civilian,”
Both Grover and Kakodkar clearly specified that the agreement would not apply to India’s strategic programme, which will continue.
In terms of any disagreement in the future, will it stop India from getting nuclear fuel?
The first thing that should be understood, the experts said, is that the agency does not supply fuel. It is the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group that will provide the fuel. “Through this particular safeguards agreement, we have to create conditions that help us in importing fuel and using it in our reactors.
Any supply agreement has to be between the supplier and us so we will have to build in, as we have been doing always, a strong commitment on the part of suppliers to continue, whether it is fuel or spares or whatever,” Dr Kakodkar said.
Another key asset in the text is that it provided a strategic fuel reserve to be used for the lifetime operation of those reactors.
“It means we can create a bank, and can fill it with fuel as and when we get fuel from other countries,” Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said. He said this will allow for India’s programme to go ahead without any disruption even if a dispute arises in the future.
Kakodkar also said that with foreign supplies, it has always been India’s policy to “put whatever comes from outside under IAEA safeguards”.
He said, “In the India-specific safeguards agreement, India has very strongly connected such cooperation agreements with other countries and supply agreements with supplier countries with our going in for safeguards with IAEA. So there is this linking which says we are going in for IAEA safeguards because we are also talking about the supply agreements where continuity is built and then we can develop legally from that point onwards.”
India has always had agreements with various countries and has honoured it, the experts said, adding that with respect to the current agreement the fact that it allows for India to stockpile is the key.
“We have created a total framework, which will help us realise lifetime operation of fuel. The whole process will move in a way that will ensure that India always honours the agreement with a particular supplier country,” Kakodkar said.
“There will not be any requirement where there is a fuel supply disruption. But if such a situation arises, Article 52c provides for us to first raise this as a material violation of the agreement and that this itself might act as a deterrent.
If still a danger of disruption arises, we have here the combination of Articles 29, 30f, 10, 4 and the preamble, this will help us with whatever steps we want to take further.”
What about the perpetuity of the safeguards? Will they remain even if there is a disruption and India walks out of the deal?
There is no problem here, the experts said. “The permanence of safeguards is coupled with the perpetuity of supply of fuel. So in case there is a disruption in the supply of fuel, the safeguards agreement will cease to hold,” Kakodkar explained.
What about future reactors that India may build?
“Any reactor that India declares as civilian, will be put under IAEA safeguards. This applies for current as well as future reactors”.
Does India keep the right to test nuclear weapons?
“We are a nuclear weapons state. Now, the NPT may not include India as a nuclear weapons state. But, since we are not a NPT signatory, we do not need to care about what the NPT says. The world knows we are a nuclear weapons state.
We are talking civilian nuclear co-operation here. So, this text in no way says anything about our ability and right to test nuclear weapons. It is a purely civilian agreement and what more is necessary to be said?” Kakodkar said.
On the Hyde Act placing some roadblocks:
“The 123 agreement is what should matter. The Hyde Act does not find any mention in the 123 Agreement. The 123 Agreement is an India-US document, whereas the Hyde Act is a US legislation document. So we do not need to bother about what it says,” M K Narayanan said.
What happens when India transfers tech to other countries?
“The export of nuclear fuel from other countries is governed by the NSG guidelines. So when we are exporting it to other countries, there is no problem in harmonising our guidelines with the NSG guidelines.
Coming specifically to question of whether we can export, within the framework of the current agreement, we are free to export to whoever may want to buy.
When we export, we will notify the IAEA and insist on country X signing an agreement with IAEA so that the agency can put its safeguards in that country,” Kakodkar said.
Will the IAEA inspectors have access to Indian nuclear know-how? How will we safeguard our interests here?
“First up, the decision of what we declare civilian is up to us. It is well-embedded in the agreement. Even so, in the draft agreement, the role of the inspectors is restricted to ensuring that there is no diversion of fuel. There is no obligation for India to share tech. Also, we have a long experience of implementing IAEA safeguards and we know how things work and we can assure that no tech will be shared,” Menon said.
What was the sequence of events? When was the text initialed? When was it sent to the IAEA board of governors?
“The text was initialed by Dr Kakodkar on July 7. This does not mean that we went ahead with the agreement without letting the Left parties know. Initialing the text merely means that the two negotiators have agreed to the text in its present form and to made it be known that this is what we have agreed.
On July 8, the Left parties said they are not coming for the final co-ordination meeting on July 10. That is when we sent it to the IAEA,” Menon said.
When some journalists said that was before the Left parties withdrew support, Menon said withdrawal of support was never the criteria to send the text to the IAEA. “The co-ordination committee meeting was the deadline, not withdrawal of support. So when the Left decided against coming to the meeting, we sent the text. There is nothing wrong here,” he said.
The text will now go to the IAEA board of governors, which will meet sometime soon. “Once they clear it, it will be placed before the NSG. After the NSG gives us a clean exemption, the text will go to the US Congress where it will be put on an Up-Down vote. These are the tentative sequence of events for the next few steps,” Narayanan said.