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US wants India to sign NPT

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Clubs India with Israel, Pakistan, North Korea.

In what is a toughening of stance on nuclear non-proliferation, the US has said its “fundamental objective” continues to be to see that India — along with Israel, Pakistan and North Korea — signs the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

This message was delivered at the preparatory committee meeting for the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference on Tuesday by Rose Gottemoeller, US Assistant Secretary of State (for verification, compliance and implementation). In a not-so-subtle reference to Pakistan, she also referred to limiting and verifiable end to fissile material production worldwide, especially in South Asia, to avoid “theft or seizure (of nuclear materials) by terrorist groups”.

India has rejected the NPT as being discriminatory, for it allows the permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, Russia, China, UK and France) to have nuclear arsenals without any obligations to disarm, while India, despite being a nuclear weapons state, has to sign the treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state and subject itself to inspections. India also believes that the NPT has failed to institutionalise nuclear non-proliferation and verifiable reduction in nuclear arsenals globally.

Considering the US Democrats’ stand on nuclear non-proliferation, India’s foreign policy mandarins have been expecting — and even bracing themselves — to face pressure from Washington to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (signat-ories to this treaty unde-rtake not to test nuclear weapons).

Of late, Indian government officials have toned down their statements against the CTBT. However, the official line still is that India does not plan to sign the CTBT since “in its present form,” it is not explicitly linked to global nuclear disarmament.

But the recent US stridency on non-proliferation with the NPT as a “viable framework,” coupled with its own push to ratify the CTBT, has the potential to strain Indo-US ties. The new Indian government at the Centre must launch a diplomatic offensive directed at the US to steer the bilateral ties away from troubled waters.

Speaking at a CII-organised event on Indo-US ties in New Delhi on Tuesday, former US ambassador to India Robert Blackwill said: “It will take very hard work and skillful diplomacy from both governments to keep the US-India relationship on its current plateau and to avoid a steady decline in our bilateral ties.”

Renewed non-proliferation evangelism from the US may make it tough going for India in negotiating an agreement with the US on reprocessing of spent fuel. This agreement is mandatory for the Indo-US nuclear agreement to materalise. “Were that negotiation to break down, recriminations would surely fly from both capitals,” said Blackwill.

Apart from effective Indian diplomacy, Blackwill said the future of bilateral ties hinges upon whether US President Barack Obama sees India’s nuclear weapons as a “destabilising factor in South Asia; as a fact of life to grudgingly tolerate; or as a natural development from a close democratic collaborator and rising great power?”

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First Published: Thu, May 07 2009. 00:58 IST