Wednesday, October 17, 2007

ElBaradei in India- A Friend Caught in the Storm

By T.P.Sreenivasan

When Mohamed ElBaradei told me that he would be in India on the same days that I was going to be in Vienna, I was not only disappointed, but also perturbed that he might be in India at the wrong time. Indeed he was and, irony of ironies, the forum he came to address on the benefits of India joining the nuclear mainstream turned out to be the burial ground of the India-U.S. nuclear deal. His proverbial diplomatic skills were on display at every step, but his friends in India could have spared him the experience. Whether the Government chose to stick to the deal and faced elections or took the path of self-preservation, ElBaradei was sure to be embarrassed. He could have played a role only if India had decided to begin consultations with the IAEA on the next steps for the implementation of the deal. To his credit, the IAEA chief weathered the storm admirably, without hurting his hosts or himself.

ElBaradei is unique among the non-proliferationists in that his commitment to the NPT is equally matched by his commitment to the development of the developing world. Non-proliferation is not a dogma for him; it is the first step towards elimination of nuclear weapons. He is, therefore, as tough with the nuclear weapon states as with the non-nuclear weapon states when it comes to their commitments under the NPT. He is also meticulous in investigating allegations about violations of the treaty as he has shown in the cases of Iraq and Iran. His latest statements on Iran prompted the New York Times to call ElBaradei an “irritant”, reminiscent of the propaganda mounted against him when the war clouds were gathering over Iraq. His assertion of Iran’s innocence, unless proved guilty, is seen as blasphemy by the Ayatollahs of non-proliferation in the west.

As for India and the others (Pakistan and Israel) who are outside the NPT, ElBaradei has shown greater tolerance and understanding than his predecessors. He has consistently maintained that a way should be found to bring them into the fold rather than isolate them. Long before the India-U.S. deal was contemplated, he used to suggest small but significant measures to us to bring us closer to the world consensus on non-proliferation. He felt that India should make use of the Technical Co-operation Fund and also accept safety inspections without compromising our position. He was extremely sensitive to our fundamental position and he sought to find an alternate route. For him, the India-U.S. nuclear deal was this very alternative and that explains his enthusiastic welcome for the initiative even without any prompting by India or the United States.

The invitation for the IAEA chief went not from the government, but from the Hindustan Times. It is not clear whether the newspaper acted on its own, sensing his news value or the government encouraged it in the hope of gaining some support for the deal. The function in Mumbai at which Dr. Anil Kakodkar handed over a miniature model of a cobalt therapy unit for Vietnam as part of the technical co-operation programme was a bit laboured because a similar ceremony was held in Vienna at the time of the General Conference in September. There has been even a suggestion by those who do not know ElBaradei that the U.S. prompted him to go to India. It is also significant that the Prime Minister broke normal protocol to host a meal for ElBaradei. Normally, the Prime Minister does not even meet heads of UN Specialised Agencies.

The masterly diplomat that he is, ElBaradei sensed the atmosphere in India very quickly and steered clear of either supporting the nuclear deal per se or suggesting that there is any hurry to begin the negotiations with the IAEA Board or the NSG. He stressed, however, that, as a friend of India, he would like India to get the full benefits of nuclear technology and not remain isolated. He also made the point that the global efforts for elimination of nuclear weapons cannot succeed without the participation of India in the nuclear mainstream. At one point, it was reported that he suggested that the safeguards agreement was not “significant” as the IAEA already had similar agreements with India, but what he meant was that it did not involve complex negotiations, once there was political agreement.

The only point he made about the deal was that it was a significant step towards the ending of India’s isolation and that regardless of changes in the United States, the deal will go through the Congress. He noted that there was bipartisan support for the deal. Even after it became clear that the deal would be shelved in order to save the government, Elbaradei did not express any alarm. His poise and choice of words were impeccable even though the spinning around him would have made him wonder whether he should have come to India at this particular juncture.

The sudden change of heart by the government to shelve the deal when Elbaradei was in town was the mother of all coincidences. But it may not be a coincidence that the left decided to press the government to abandon the deal when he was in India. They may have seen the visit as a demonstration by the government that it was going to take the deal forward. ElBaradei is a friend indeed, but we should have waited for the need to arise before we tested his friendship.
Nuclear Deal: Leave It to the Little Man

By T.P.Sreenivasan

“At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man walking into the little booth with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper. No amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.” said Sir Winston Churchill. Will that little man put that little cross in the right place if he is given an opportunity to decide whether India should proceed with the nuclear deal?

The nuclear deal is nothing but a logical extension of the efforts made by the previous government to find an accommodation with the global non-proliferation regime after the tests of 1998. In fact, India has been pursuing such an accommodation since 1974, which means that virtually every political party in India is in agreement that India’s nuclear isolation should end. Therefore, there is no doubt that the little man will have no difficulty to accept a deal, which gives India an opening to nuclear technology without signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The only question, then, is whether the Manmohan Singh Government could have negotiated a better deal with the United States. Anyone, who has followed the dialogue with the United States since May 1998, will know that the deal has the right mix of rights and obligations for India and that we could not have done better in the negotiations, given the proclivities of public opinion not only in the United States, but also in other countries, including Russia. The proof of this is that the deal has gained acceptance in many countries, though the Chinese position is generally negative.

Strobe Talbott may have said that the Indian negotiators got the better of him, but the five benchmarks that he was pursuing with Jaswant Singh would have tied us in knots much more than the present nuclear deal would do. In fact, India had all but accepted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), subject only to “de-demonising” it in the eyes of the Indian public. Another benchmark, namely, strategic restraint, was nothing but a thinly veiled plan for capping, rolling back and eliminating our nuclear weapon capability. On export controls, we virtually endorsed the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines. We had no difficulty in agreeing to negotiate and, if possible, sign a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Even on the fifth benchmark of better relations with Pakistan, we were receptive as Lahore and Agra had shown.

The Bush-Manmohan Singh deal, even with the Hyde Act as a backdrop, stops short of conceding some of the points in the blue print that the previous Government was considering. The 123 Agreement is open to different interpretations, but it has enough ambiguities there to operate in our interest, if the American change of heart in favour of India in the new world is real. It is a framework that can accommodate concessions in the business interests of both the countries. The withdrawal clauses in the Agreement are a masterpiece in drafting. But it is premised on good faith and mutuality of interests, not on the shibboleths of the cold war or even the Bangladesh war.

The opposition to the deal today, which did not become apparent during the 1998-2000 period and did not become acute till the 123 Agreement was finalized, is on the assumption that good faith does not exist and that a strategic relationship with the United States, even in the changed world scenario, is harmful. The argument appears to be in favour of an agreement that deals with the nuclear issue, but does not bring us any closer to the United States. The irony, of course, is that we have been trying in the past to resolve the nuclear imbroglio, which alone stood in the way of improving our relations with the United States.

As of today, the situation is that one alliance loves the deal, but it loves power more and another alliance hates the deal, but hates to lose the political leverage it has today. Yet another alliance would like to sign the same deal, but in a different garb, if and when it comes to power. No mechanism, whether political or technical can square this circle. The questionnaire can be answered, but the questions will remain. The Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement are realities that cannot be wished away. In fact, India, in an act of misjudgment, had deployed all its Indian American and business clout in Washington to have the Hyde Act passed, in the expectation that it would be defanged by the Bush administration. The Left was not breathing down the necks of the negotiators when they secured satisfactory formulations in the 123 Agreement.

If India pauses or even ejects on account of domestic pressure, it is not just our credibility that will be at stake, but also an opportunity to have a satisfactory deal. In international law, an agreement comes into force or it does not. Not “operationalising” is not a recognized option for parties to an agreement. Another U.S. President and another U.S. Congress may not be inclined to negotiate on the same lines in the future, particularly if there is no national consensus in India in favour of a new relationship between the two countries.

The question today is whether the apparent disapproval of the deal by a majority of the members of parliament really reflects the mood of the people. In other counties, this would be a classic case for a national referendum. Since we do not have such a constitutional provision, there is no choice for us, but to go to the little man and let him make a choice. But the worry is his proverbial unpredictability. Indian democracy will shine more if the political parties have the courage to face the electorate on an issue of such public importance. If voted back to power, the Government can pursue the deal as well as its worldview with vigour. If not, the new dispensation will find its own path forward. Let the little man decide.

January 29, 2007