For all the hand-wringing in India over getting sidelined by the United States in its regional strategy, the two countries have gone ahead and just completed an important deal on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from reactors to be built in India.
The agreement is a key step in the implementation of the India-U.S. civil nuclear pact which grants India access to nuclear fuel and technology, even though it has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under the agreement India can reprocess U.S.-originated nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards which in itself is a symbolic concession, according to the Washington Post. It said that the Indians were a bit concerned about the idea of American officials running around their nuclear reactors , a sort of "a symbolic, sovereignty issue" as a source in the U.S. nuclear industry said. They would rather submit to oversight by the IAEA, which thus far is a model the United States has only followed for nuclear collaboration with Europe and Japan.
Considering that America has gone to war in Iraq on the grounds that it was building weapons of mass destruction and is at this time pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran for its nuclear programme, it is indeed a big deal. It can also potentially reshape the strategic landscape in South Asia with the world virtually granting legitimacy to India as a nuclear weapons state while denying that to Pakistan.
Pushing the accord through in the U.S. has been a "wrenching affair" as the Indian Express put it, riding against the current of proliferation concerns worldwide. Why should the world be making an exception for India just as it is breathing down hard on Iran and North Korea to roll back their nuclear programmes ? Where, after all, is the iron-clad guarantee that India won't divert some of the plutonium extracted from the imported spent fuel to its strategic weapons programme, the experts ask. Blatant double standards, the Union of Concerned Scientists said.
No wonder Pakistan asked for a similar deal at high-level talks in Washington last week aimed at putting their tempestuous ties on a more even keel.