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July 18, 2005

US Proliferation Rhetoric and Reality


What's fine for India is forbidden Iran

by Gordon Prather

Last year, President Bush made a number of proposals to "strengthen" the existing weapons of mass destruction proliferation-prevention regime.

He proposed expanding his Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to interdict what he deems to be illicit transfers by "proliferation networks." He urged the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution criminalizing such illicit international transfers, thereby presumably legitimizing his PSI.

The president specifically urged the Nuclear Suppliers Group to close a loophole in the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons by arbitrarily limiting transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology by NSG members to those states that already possess them.

Established in 1975, the Nuclear Suppliers Group is comprised of 44 nuclear-supplier states, including China, Russia, and the United States, that have voluntarily agreed to coordinate their export controls governing transfers of civilian nuclear material and nuclear-related equipment and technology to non-nuclear-weapon states.

NSG members are expected to forgo nuclear trade with governments that do not subject themselves to the International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards regime. The IAEA has accepted the responsibility for verifying that NSG exports are not used by the importing state for any military purpose.

The NSG has two sets of guidelines listing the specific nuclear materials, equipment, and technologies that are subject to export controls.

Part I comprises materials and technology designed specifically for nuclear use, including fissile materials, nuclear reactors and associated equipment, and nuclear material reprocessing and enrichment equipment.

Part II comprises dual-use equipment that could have nuclear applications.

To be eligible for importing Part I items from an NSG member, states – irrespective of whether they are NPT signatories or not – must have in place a comprehensive IAEA Safeguards Agreement covering all their nuclear activities and facilities.

In the case of Part II equipment, IAEA safeguards are only required for the specific nuclear activity or facility where the NSG import will be employed.

India's Prime Minister comes to Washington this week to meet with President Bush with the hope – engendered by Condi Rice's recent visit to New Delhi – that Bush will intercede with the NSG and get them to relax the current requirement that they make subject to a full-scope IAEA Safeguards Agreement all their nuclear equipment and facilities – including that in India's nuclear weapons program.

Condi had whizzed down to New Delhi earlier this year to prevent India from finalizing technical and commercial contracts for a $4.5 billion natural-gas pipeline that will provide Iranian natural gas mostly to India.

What carrot did Condi offer the Indians to prevent their finalizing the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline deal?

You guessed it. The possibility the U.S. would lift sanctions imposed on India as a result of the 1998 nuclear weapons tests, supply India with additional nuclear power plants and the fuel therefor, and waive NSG guidelines on those exports.

The Indians have taken several steps to assure the U.S. and the NSG that they will not divert any of the fissile materials, nuclear reactors, and associated equipment they are allowed to import to a military purpose.

India also enacted the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems Act to "provide an integrated legislative basis to India's commitment to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." The act applies to the export, transfer, re-transfer, transit, and transshipment of material, equipment, or technology relating to weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery.

Now, the U.S. had put great pressure on Russia to apply the NSG guidelines to the construction of the first two nuclear power plants at Koodankulam. Russia successfully argued that the original contract was signed in 1988, before the new and more stringent NSG guidelines came into force in 1992.

The U.S. even attempted to prevent refueling of the Tarapur atomic power station. Russia was only able to supply low-enriched uranium to the U.S.-built plant in 2001 on the basis of "safety" considerations.

Hence, Russia is effectively unable to supply India any more reactors or more low-enriched uranium fuel. India apparently is in desperate need of both.

Well, Condi failed in her mission; the Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline project appears to be on track.

So, it looks like we'll find out this week how much Bush wants to isolate Iran.

If the EU-Iranian negotiations fail, and Iran turns to Russia or China for assistance with its nuclear programs, will Bush continue to press the NSG – which includes Russia and China – to deny Iran its inalienable rights under the NPT, all the while flouting NSG guidelines himself, to provide Westinghouse nuclear power plants and the fuel therefor to India?


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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