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Secretary Rice Urges Congress to Approve the U.S.- India Pact

April 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: For much of the day, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced skeptics as she tried to persuade members of Congress that President Bush’s decision to share U.S. nuclear technology and information with India was a good one.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: The U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative is a strategic achievement. It’s good for America; it’s good for India; and it’s good for the international community.

KWAME HOLMAN: That deal was presented with great fanfare last month, when the president journeyed to India to show how much his administration regarded that nation of a billion people as a strategic partner with the United States.

But since then, the pact has drawn criticism from former President Jimmy Carter, former Senator Sam Nunn, some members of Congress, and non-proliferation experts who worry it will undermine controls on the spread of nuclear weapons around the world.

At Secretary Rice’s first stop today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Chairman Richard Lugar expressed some of those reservations.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN), Foreign Relations Committee Chairman: Although the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement would move India into a closer relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency and would put more Indian reactors under safeguards, it would not prevent India from expanding its nuclear arsenal. If Congress approves this agreement, we’ll be establishing a new course after decades of declining any cooperation with India’s nuclear program.

KWAME HOLMAN: Under the agreement, India pledged to separate its civilian and military programs and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect 14 civilian nuclear reactors, but not its eight military reactors. In turn, India would have access to U.S. nuclear technology and fuel to help fill its growing energy needs, but such access would require Congress to exempt India from the Atomic Energy Act.

That’s because India, which tested a nuclear weapon as recently as 1998, never has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and therefore has been denied access to American and international nuclear cooperation projects.

Rice said the new proposal was a way to get India to play by the rules of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We are simply seeking to address an untenable situation. India has never been party to the NPT, and this agreement does not bring — but this agreement does bring India into the nonproliferation framework, and, thus, strengthen the regime.

Civil nuclear cooperation with India will not lead to an arms race in South Asia. Nothing we or any other potential international suppliers provide to India under this initiative will enhance its military capacity or add to its military stockpile.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rice and the deal did get some bipartisan support from senior committee Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware and Republican George Allen of Virginia. But California Democrat Barbara Boxer complained that the U.S. was making a deal with India, while New Delhi was deepening its ties with Iran. She cited a news report that India was training Iranian sailors.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), California: Did you say, “Before we go forward with this, we want this ended”? I mean, this is the defense news of the United States of America: “Indian Navy Trains Iranian Soldiers.” Two of their ships were in the headquarters of Indian navy’s southern command.

So you’ve got Iranian — you’re saying, on the one hand, we’re going to allow fuel, nuclear fuel, to go from this country to their country, and they’ve got Iranian ships in port?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Senator, there are Iranian…


SEN. BARBARA BOXER: So have you made this part of the deal?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: There have been and probably will be Iranian port calls in a number of countries in the world.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: No, no, this isn’t port calls. This is training of their military. Did you make this part of the deal, yes or no?


SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Because the reason I’m asking is, I think some of us would like to make it a condition.

KWAME HOLMAN: Secretary Rice spent most of the afternoon before the House International Relations Committee, where, among other things, she said the deal with India would create thousands of American jobs in the nuclear industry. More hearings are planned before Congress acts on the deal.

MARGARET WARNER: So is this U.S.-India nuclear cooperation deal in America’s best interests and should Congress give it the green light? We get two views.

Nicholas Burns is undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department. He was deeply involved in negotiating this agreement.

And Robert Einhorn was assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation during the Clinton administration. He’s now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

And welcome to you, both.

Now that more of the details of this deal are out, Bob Einhorn, how does it look to you?

ROBERT EINHORN, Center for Strategic and International Studies: Well, the United States has a strong interest in having a close strategic relationship with India in the 21st century. I think there’s wide support in Washington for that.

But I think we have to pursue this interest in a way that serves another vital American interest, and that’s preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In her testimony today, Secretary Rice argued that this deal is a net nonproliferation gain for the United States. I don’t think so; I think this is a net nonproliferation loss for the United States.

The steps that India has taken as part of this deal, and the secretary enumerated them today in her testimony, those steps are rather modest. They tend to be either reaffirmations of existing Indian commitments or codifications of sound, responsible, existing Indian policy.

The gains are modest, but I think the risks are substantial. And let me mention what I think the main risk is: I think the main risk is that the deal enables India actually to build up its stocks of bomb-grade fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

India has very limited domestic supplies of uranium. Under current circumstances, it has to devote all of that to both military and civilian. If it can import under this deal, it can import for the civilian and devote the entire military to the nuclear weapons program.

And this can involve a substantial build-up. And if India builds up or is perceived to be intending to build up, then Pakistan will follow.

MARGARET WARNER: So what’s your response to that, to that big overall point, which is, in the end, what this does is open the door for India to build more nuclear weapons?

NICHOLAS BURNS, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs: Margaret, this agreement is very much in the national interest of the United States because it strengthens the nonproliferation system.

Here you had this anomalous situation for 30 years. Known cheaters and violators of the NPT regime are inside it; they’ve signed the treaty, Iran and North Korea, and are now trying to avoid responsibility for what we all have to do inside that regime.

The largest democracy in the world, India, a country that’s a friend of the United States, a new strategic partner, has been outside the system, has not been able to get in.

And now India has come to the United States and the rest of the world and said, “We want to come nearly all the way into this system. We want to abide by all of the regulations. We want to put the majority of our nuclear facilities under safeguards.” That’s a good deal for the United States. In fact, I’d say to Bob Einhorn that’s a strong net gain for proliferation.

And let me just respond to the very serious charge that he just made, and that is that somehow this will lead to an arms race between Pakistan and India or China and India.

India has had all the resources, the uranium, the technology, and the scientific knowledge to double its nuclear program over the last 30 years. It has not done so, its nuclear weapons program.

India has a small deterring force. It has a policy of no first use. In fact, what’s going to happen in India in the future is all of the motivation in the political system is going to be to spend money on electricity production, to build peaceful, civil, nuclear power plants.

We believe, and the Indians believe, that, in 20 years, 90 percent of their entire nuclear system will be under international safeguards. If that’s not a strong net gain for nonproliferation, I don’t know what is.

ROBERT EINHORN: But if I could just respond to Nick on that…


ROBERT EINHORN: … because the Indians insisted on keeping a substantial number of nuclear power reactors, present and future, outside of international safeguards. That means they could use those reactors to generate plutonium for their nuclear weapons program.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, just to explain that eight of the 22 current reactors will be declared military by them and not subject to inspections, correct?

ROBERT EINHORN: That’s right.

MARGARET WARNER: And future ones, as well.

ROBERT EINHORN: And in the future, they have the right to designate any reactor as civilian and military. Now, they have a nuclear energy program, so of course they’re going to devote much of that to nuclear energy, but still it gives them a lot of reactors to produce plutonium. And with only two or three or four reactors devoted to the military mission, they could have 50 or 100 bombs a year.

MARGARET WARNER: But take Nick Burns’ point. What is wrong — if India already has nuclear weapons, then what is so bad about if they wanted to create more?

ROBERT EINHORN: OK. Our concern is not simply that India may build up its fissile material stocks. It’s that Pakistan — and Pakistan does worst-case thinking. They’re a military government, and they do worst-case thinking.

It will look at capabilities, not just intentions. They’re likely to build up, generate more plutonium of their own. Eventually, China may decide it has to react.

Now, the United States has a vital interest in curbing the buildup of fissile materials. Why? Because the more you have, the harder they are to secure, the easier they are for terrorists to get hold of them.

We should be doing everything possible to cap the amount of fissile material that exists in the world. I think we missed an opportunity to do so in the India deal.

MARGARET WARNER: You’re shaking your head.

NICHOLAS BURNS: I’d just like to say — well, I just find this argument highly theoretical and not very much grounded in the reality of how the world actually works.

India has nuclear weapons; we all know that. India is not going to give up those nuclear weapons. But India is a trustworthy strategic ally of our country. And for us to say, “We have a nonproliferation system. We’re happy to have the Iranians in it. We’re happy to have the North Koreans, but our friend, India, can’t come in.”

If India truly wanted to build up to 50, its nuclear stockpiles by 50 bombs a year, it would have so 10 years ago or 20 years ago. It’s got the uranium. It’s got the know-how. It didn’t do it, because India does not want an arms race with China. It doesn’t want it with Pakistan.

So let’s look at the advantages. The advantages are this: This deal will seal a new strategic relationship between India and the United States that will have incalculable benefits for our country in the 21st century.

It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. India is one of the biggest polluters in the world because it burns coal for its energy. Its jobs for Americans, for the American corporations that will go in and build these peaceful nuclear power plants.

And it’s good for nonproliferation It will strengthen the system. It will be an abject lesson to the Irans and the North Koreas of the world that they’re not playing by the rules, and that’s why we’re going to pressure them to give up their nuclear weapons.

But a country that plays by the rules, that doesn’t test its nuclear weapons — it’s got a moratorium under way — it hasn’t diverted its nuclear technology, that country is going to be rewarded. That’s the kind of system that we should try to build in the 21st century.

MARGARET WARNER: Want to respond?

ROBERT EINHORN: India has been a responsible possessor of nuclear weapons. It’s developed export controls that are becoming strong, but they’re not there yet; they have a long way to go.

The United States has imposed sanctions on India for three or four separate times because of the leakage of chemical-related, missile-related, nuclear-related technology. They have a way to go.

In terms of the financial benefits available to U.S. business, we don’t know how many American reactors the Indians will build, probably not very many. They have an autonomous program; they’re not looking to buy many reactors from abroad.

NICHOLAS BURNS: Can I just say on that, Bob? They plan to buy eight 1,000-megawatt reactors from overseas from the United States or Europe. And that is jobs for Americans.

Can I also say this? And I don’t mean to interrupt, but it’s an important point. The defender of the nonproliferation system is Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the IAEA. He came out and supported this very vigorously. If a defender of the system says this deal will strengthen nonproliferation regime, I’m not sure how we criticize it.

ROBERT EINHORN: One important way of strengthening the regime supported by Mohamed ElBaradei is to have a treaty cutting off the further production of fissile material.

Now, I understand that the administration initially, before the July deal, proposed to the Indians that they stop producing fissile material for nuclear weapons. Now, they rejected that proposal.

So the administration must recognize that the risks of this deal are less if India is stopping producing fissile material, but the administration also knows that India is going to be reluctant to do this unilaterally. So why not have a multilateral ban on fissile material production?

MARGARET WARNER: And let me just interrupt you, because we’re almost out of time. We watched this going on, on the Hill today. What can Congress do? Can it simply say yea or nay or can it force amendments?

ROBERT EINHORN: I think what it can do is impose a condition. What it can say is that this can take effect — U.S. and others can engage in nuclear cooperation with India — as soon as India stops producing fissile material, either unilaterally or by joining a multilateral treaty.

And if the U.S. And India are going to work together to negotiate that treaty as they are committed to do, we should be able to achieve that treaty in a year or so.

NICHOLAS BURNS: And we’re proposing a fissile material cut-off treaty; India has agreed to support us. That’s the multilateral treaty.

This was a good day for President Bush and Secretary Rice. And I think for the press it’s been very negative on this deal. You saw a surprising number of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and the House say, “We like where this deal is going.”

Senator Biden and Senator Kerry, Democrats, said they’re inclined to support it. Now, they may have amendments to bring forth, and we’ll listen to them, but we heard a lot of support from both sides of the aisle.

And we’re very hopeful that Congress, which will have the final say on this, is going to see it that way and that, in a couple of months, we’ll have an agreement that we can take to the international community, and we’ll have a new relationship with India to boot. This is a strong deal for the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Undersecretary Burns, Bob Einhorn, thank you.