Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 05, 2008

How Bush Tried To Screw India On The Nuke Deal

The Washington Post headlines today: Glitch Delays Signing Of India Nuclear Pact. It is correct that the so called '123 agreement' has not been signed yet as was expected. But this was not a simple glich.

This was a botched attempt by the Bush administration to screw the Indians.

The treaty will allow India to import nuclear technology and fuel for its civil nuclear program, while leaving its military nuclear programs and bombs untouched and unsupervised by the IAEA. The U.S. hopes to make multi-billion dollar deals under this agreement and sees it as the beginning of an U.S.-India alliance aimed against China and Pakistan.

In India the deal is attacked by the left and by hard right nationalists because they fear that it will severely restrict India's sovereignty. Democrats in Washington were also very concerned about the deal as it practically nukes the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty which India is not willing to comply with.

These tensions culminated in one point. What happens if India tests another nuclear weapon?

In the Indian interpretation the deal guarantees access to nuclear fuel even if India does more testing. (For example in response to a Pakistani or Chinese test.) Under the current political conditions the Prime Minister Singh would be in severe political trouble if he would agree to anything else.

But some Democrats, especially Senators Dorgan and Bingaman who had put a hold on the bill and pressed for amendments, wanted the opposite. An explicit U.S. statement that nuclear cooperation would be cut off and delivery of nuclear fuel halted, if India makes another test.

To get their support for the deal, Rice last Wednesday wrote a letter to Senator Reid which said:

Let me reassure you that an Indian test, as I have testified publicly, would result in most serious consequences. Existing US law would require automatic cut-off of cooperation, as well as a number of other sanctions, if India were to test.

That was binding enough for the Senate and the treaty passed on Thursday.

But it somewhat incompatible with what the Indians were told:

[A] senior Indian official said his government wants Bush to make a statement that clearly addresses India's concerns about fuel supplies if it conducts a test. The official said Bush had promised an accompanying statement at the time of signing.

The Indians were wondering: "If on one side the 123 agreement has no restriction or consequence of testing and we get assured by the administration that there is nothing like this, how can Rice write a letter that says the opposite?"

They smelled a rat.

On Saturday Rice flew to New Delhi and it was expected that she would sign the final deal with  Premier Minister Manmohan Singh, which Bush has not yet signed:

Before leaving Washington, Rice had told reporters that Bush "does not have to sign before I sign."


Many Indians had expected Rice to sign the agreement during her visit, but an Indian foreign ministry advisory issued late Friday did not mention it.

To Rice's embarrassment the Indian's refused to sign. They fear, with reason, that if they sign first, Bush might sign later and add a signing statement that would include what Rice promised to the Senate.

As an Indian official tells WaPo:

"We would like President Bush to sign the legislation into law first and make a statement that alleviates our fears about fuel supplies," the official said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media about the matter. "What if we sign it first here in Delhi and then President Bush signs it later and introduces a conditionality that is not acceptable to us?"

But how would such a statement by Bush be compatible with what the Senate was told?

It was now announced that Bush will sign the treaty next Wednesday. But will he add a statement on the fuel supply and testing?

To get the deal done Bush will have to show Congress the finger. That of course would not be the first time.

Posted by b on October 5, 2008 at 12:58 UTC | Permalink


It is not just conditionality on nuclear testing that worries Indians, it is also conditionality on enrichment and nuclear reprocessing technology that US Congress has added and the one that Indians also object to.

Posted by: suresh | Oct 5 2008 13:50 utc | 1

The Bush regime (and more particularly Rice) is getting a reputation for this. First, the Georgia ceasefire, then North Korean verification and now the Indian nuclear deal. I've always figured that the US never lived up to its treaty obligations if it didn't the US an advantage but this is getting ridiculous, Nobody, except the US poodles, is going to sign a treaty with the US if this continues. BTW, the US demonstrates its usual hypocrisy by always expecting other parties to adhere to treaties.

Posted by: blowback | Oct 5 2008 14:31 utc | 2

This is great, Bernhard. Somehow in the midst of last week's sound and fury over the Mother of All Bailouts, I completely missed the action on this. I did not realize Bingaman and Dorgan had taken at least a partial stand on this - good for them. Bush's perfidy is exposed more everyday, and the more sunlight it is exposed to the more it stinks.

Posted by: Maxcrat | Oct 5 2008 14:46 utc | 3

As was expected.

I think there are a few people in the State Dept. who don't want to see the deal through. Without making it too apparent, that's why this deal has gone in fits and starts.

This is going to be a massive embarrassment for a few Indians who seem invested in this deal. This deal is not going to be signed. And to snub the US, India will sign some deals with France and Russia for reactors. And then follow through with the 126 fighter aircraft deal. And then of course, the new tanker, commercial aircraft which will swing towards Airbus.

If the EU plays it right, that is.

Lastly, I don't understand why anyone would want to sign deals with the US? I mean, look at Pakistan with its F-16s; no spares and all, just covered up and waiting for spares to even practice. All because some "human rights", "terrorist support", "non proliferation" blah coming out of State Dept.

At least the Russkies play hardball with money and a bit of blackmail now and then; nothing like the hypocrisy of the US arm sales tied to the political whims and fancies of tin pot US prez.

Posted by: shanks | Oct 5 2008 15:23 utc | 4

Presumably the Indians have also made sure that this is a "self-executing" treaty :) (a la Medellin v. Texas)...

Posted by: Tosk | Oct 5 2008 15:54 utc | 5

The treaty will allow India to import nuclear technology and fuel for its civil nuclear program, while leaving its military nuclear programs and bombs untouched and unsupervised by the IAEA.

why is it advantageous for india to divorce itself from complying w/IAEA? who gets to decide who gets nuclear weapons? why does the US get to posture itself as being supportive of india, knowing its tested nuclear weapons (and israel for that matter) but thinks its policies is not somehow hypocritical towards countries it deems as hostile.

what is india's biggest advantage of aligning itself w/the US at this stage? china? i would think avoiding the US at all costs right now would be to everyone's advantage. what aren't they dealing w/france?

Posted by: annie | Oct 5 2008 20:13 utc | 6

If only it were true that this treaty won't be signed, but I suspect that in the end the Indian government will fall for the carrots of increased trade opportunity and try and conceal the big stick from the population. Why? Because the Indian corporatists planning on getting the benefit of the deal will pull out all the stops. If this thing follows the way it has happened everywhere else the political leaders on all sides will have been suborned with bribery blackmail or extortion.

It is only because India's media ownership hasn't been as concentrated into the hands of a few corporatists that this debate has been allowed to fester on.
Mostly when these one sided agreements are signed the opposing voices are never heard.
Old Rupe has spent too much time in China sewing up his TV monopoly.

Of course media ownership laws are a anathema to Murdoch who only likes a sure thing nowadays. India still has 'old' laws dating back to the 'old days' of 10 years ago when India was pursuing a more egalitarian society. There are still quite stringent rules preventing one owner from dominating a media market, at first glance they seem quite similar to the old Australian rules before Murdoch got his lackeys in parliament to throw them out.

India's democratic tradition has made getting rid of these irksome restrictions difficult since any attempt to change them is likely to have a large chunk of India's diverse and vibrant media turn against the party proposing the change.

However the corporatists are on a promise that this will change soon.

The Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India is consulting on these changes now, closing date Oct 24 2008.

If the amerika India treaty gets signed that will encourage the big trans national media players to consider investment as a big mob of deregulatory moves such as the review of cross media ownership restrictions are part and parcel of India's obligations under the treaty. In other words the opposition is about to lose it's voice.

I hope Indian realise how much is on the line here. I've seen this game in too many other countries, once lost there is no going back and considering the whole neo-liberal deregulation thing has just failed spectacularly, there really isn't a lot of logic in being the last one in. We can be sure the Goldman Sachs et al are sharpening their claws at the thought of one last good feast.

Especially not just for a bit of enriched uranium. The whole amerikan controlled 'western alliance' is teetering anyhow. In a couple of years the market in enriched uranium will (unfortunately) be wide open again. Still maybe the sooner everyone has a nuke, the sooner amerika will have to recognise it can no longer bully everyone else.

China and India have more in common with each other (and Pakistan for that matter) than they do with amerika or europe. The only reason India and China are being lined up against each other is so that amerika can try and control the situation. Let's hope India doesn't fall for it.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 5 2008 20:27 utc | 7

I've wondered if the US deal was intended to derail India's thorium reactor project. India has little naturally-occurring uranium, but a large supply of thorium.

Posted by: Obelix | Oct 5 2008 21:00 utc | 8

Why would the USA care one way or another whether India got the Thorium reactor up?
I know that that the world is worried about energy security but are you really suggesting that the USA would seek to sabotage the energy future of a potential economic competitor?
Oh! Hang on. I just re-read that question and realise how silly it was to ask it!
As you were.

BTW, Kudos for you having your eye on the emerging Thorium reactors.
Most folks go "Huh?" when I mention Thorium.
Everybody is still hung up on last century's Uranium.

Speaking of which.
At roughly this time last year, my (conservative) government, which oversees the largest deposits of Uranium in the world, decide it would sell said Uranium to India.
Less than half a year later, my new (progressive) government has reversed that decision claiming India's refusal to sign the NPT.
The current government does have long standing policies regarding not expanding Uranium mining within Australia as well as a public antipathy towards non-NPT countries, but I still think that there is more global politics behind this than what meets the eye.

Any thoughts?

Posted by: Marek Bage | Oct 6 2008 10:15 utc | 10

Have to agree with Debs is Dead. I would be very surprised if this deal does not get signed on the Indian side regardless of what Bush puts in his signing statement. We have seen it time and time again that countries dealing with the US are willing to make agreements that a) domestically unpopular and b) not in their interests. Yes the Indian officials are fearful that they'll get burnt by the US but in these situations, again and again, we see the non-US party giving in. I really don't understand what forces soveriegn governments to sell out so routinely, but that's what happens.

Regarding Australia's government selling uranium to India; I think it will happen one way or another for the same reasons I outlined above. Can you really imagine Rudd (Australia's new prime minister) telling the US and India to get lost? Remember that Australia didn't do much at the nuclear suppliers group to block this deal.

Posted by: swio | Oct 6 2008 20:39 utc | 11


It's worthwhile noting that Sens. Hatch and Reid have introduced a bill to amend the Atomic Energy act of 1954 to include thorium.

That says to me that the US isn't dismissing technologies such as LFTR as impractical. It also says to me that the US wants to be the primary supplier of the technology.

It would seem that LFTR technology solves a number of problems that conventional uranium reactors exhibit. No production of transuranics, self-moderating (no "China Syndrome") and relatively plentiful fuel.

Then there are the foreign policy aspects. Getting, for instance, Iran to drop its uranium enrichment program by offering thorium technology for power production would cause a great global sign of relief.

Posted by: Obelix | Oct 7 2008 0:22 utc | 12

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