20. Dec, 2006.
Future N-test option not closed, says Pranab
New  New Delhi, December 19: On the last day of the winter session, Rajya Sabha debated in style and substance the Indo-US deal on civilian nuclear cooperation which ended with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee announcing that no deal with US would bind India from testing a nuclear weapon in future.  India will keep its option open to conduct nuclear tests if the situation so warrants, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee declared in the Rajya Sabha even as he rejected Left demand for a debate on the 123 agreement in Parliament before it is inked.

Asserting that New Delhi will not accept any “additional commitments” other than what has been agreed to in the July 18, 2005 joint statement and March 2, 2006 declaration, Mr Mukherjee has insisted that the US legislation on the nuclear issue can not put a bar on the production of fissile material by India.

“We will keep our options open to conduct nuclear tests…We will not foreclose our option,” Mr Mukherjee said replying to a six hour-long debate on the Indo-US Nuclear deal, in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Rejecting opposition charge that the country’s interests were being “mortgaged”, he assured that no commitment would be given through any treaty on foreclosing the option.

“There is nothing in the agreement that prevents India from buying fuel from other Nuclear Suppliers Group countries in the event of the US deciding to foreclose its option of supplying nuclear fuel,” he said.

On reference to fissile material control in the US legislation that was signed as law by President George W Bush yesterday, the External Affairs Minister said there was no obligation on part of India in this regard.

Declaring that New Delhi would be guided in this regard by the understanding of July 18, 2005 between the two countries, Mr Mukherjee said India was for multilateral fissile material control, one that was “non-discriminatory and universal and verifiable”.

“The reference to it in the legislation was a reflection of views of the US Congress,” he said.

On the perpetuity of fuel supplies under the agreement, he said the US had assured that it would fulfill its commitments of July 18.

Emphasising that New Delhi was seeking full civil nuclear cooperation, Mr Mukherjee said there was nothing in the US legislation which barred India from reprocessing or enriching imported uranium. This would be a key issue of discussion with the US under the 123 agreement.

In this context, Mr Mukherjee rejected the demand from the Left that the government should give an assurance that the 123 agreement with the US would be debated in the House before it was inked by the government.

“It is a difficult assurance to give,” Mr Mukherjee said in response to CPM leader Sitaram Yechury’s demand.

With regard to end-use monitoring of the spent nuclear fuel, he said India had its own procedures in place and had a good reputation in this regard.

Earlier, attacking the government on various provisions of the deal, the opposition BJP and ally CPM demanded assurances from the Prime Minister that the deal would not compromise country’s interests.

Initiating a short-duration discussion on the deal, BJP member Arun Shourie said if India was to go ahead with the deal on the basis of the Hyde Act, (the Bill that was passed by the US Congress and signed by President George Bush yesterday changing a US law), then all assurances given by the Prime Minister would be violated. 

BJP’s Arun Shourie initiated the six-hour long debate in the Upper House, with a speech that was described by P C Alexander as “masterly,” and “so far the best on the issue.” Shourie compared provisions of the Hyde Act with assurances that the Prime Minister has given to Parliament on the issue and argued “both cannot be reconciled.”
“The Hyde Act puts shackles on India’s nuclear capabilities and makes a mockery of all assurances given by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Parliament... Washington will virtually dictate to India what foreign policy it has to pursue because they are giving us nuclear fuel,” Mr Shourie said. 

He said the government had been led “step by step into a quicksand” and feared that India would forfeit its right to conduct nuclear tests in the future. 

Mr Yechuri charged the government with “providing a market for the US to produce nuclear energy at India’s cost” and said the argument of energy production was not valid as it would not be cost effective. 

He said the US had stopped producing nuclear energy for the past two decades because of various concerns, including environmental. But India had started pursuing it now. 

Referring to certain clauses in the agreement, Mr Yechuri said the clause about India’s foreign policy being “congruent” to that of the US was against India’s national interest. 

“Independent foreign policy is an important constituent of the common minimum programme of the UPA government,” he added.

He said the proliferation security initiative (PSI) was also an area of concern. “We have been drawn into a vortex of US nuclear strategies which India cannot afford,” he added.

Mr Yechuri said the Prime Minister should take the House into confidence and satisfy the members that if the 123 agreement did not allay the fears, then it should be concluded that the deal was not in India’s interest. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said US commercial interests, and not India’s energy requirement, was the compulsion behind the deal. He said there was 50,000 MW of untapped hydro-power potential in India. “Nuclear energy is not preferred even in the US which has not set up a single plant in the last two decades. They now want to dump it in India,” Yechury said.

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