US-India agreement rumbles towards next sticking point

14 August 2007

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh encountered noisy dissent from politicians intent on preserving India's right to test nuclear weapons when he attempted to make a statement on the US-India nuclear energy cooperation agreement to his parliament.

Members of parliament began to voice their discontent as soon as Singh began his address to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, on 13 August. After frequent interruptions, and admonitions from the speaker, some members left the House in protest at the deal, demanding that the agreement be renegotiated.

An earlier sticking point, India's right to reprocess US-origin spent nuclear fuel, has been secured in the text of the agreement. However, many Indian politicians now feel that the country's right to develop its nuclear arsenal, and the future independence of its foreign policy, is under threat. Singh took pains to point out that India would retain its right to use its indigenously developed nuclear facilities for its own purposes, and moreover, its right to test nuclear weapons. "Let me hence reiterate once again that a decision to undertake a future nuclear test would be our sovereign decision, one that rests solely with the government," he said, noting that there was nothing in the so-called 123 Agreement that would legally constrain the Indian government regarding its security and defence needs.

Nevertheless, the wording of the Hyde Act - the US government act of December 2006 which effectively opened the door for US-India trade by introducing waivers and exemptions of earlier legislation - clearly states that should India detonate a nuclear explosive device, those waivers and exemptions would cease.

Before storming out of the chamber one politician, Shri Basu Deb Acharia, declared: "This will adversely affect our independent policy. We are opposed to the harmful provisions of the Hyde Act."

Singh held a follow-up meeting with leaders of the left-wing Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to try to allay left-wing fears that the US agreement would influence India's foreign policy. However CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat later reiterated that his party would not backtrack from its opposition to the deal. Singh has declared in press interviews that the deal cannot be renegotiated. The deal requires approval in both India and the USA to proceed.

Further information

Text of prime minister Manmohan Singh's statement to the Indian parliament
Transcript of Lok Sabha debates 13 August 2007

Text of the Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act
Text of the 123 Agreement

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