Standing up to the U.S.

Published : Jul 04, 1998 00:00 IST

THE Clinton administration has sharply criticised the supplementary agreement between Russia and India for the construction of two light-water 1000-MW nuclear power plants - the biggest in South Asia - at Koodankulam.

The deal is worth $3 billion, and the supplementary agreement to the Inter-Governmental Agreement of 1988 was signed in New Delhi barely a month after India carried out its nuclear tests at Pokhran and a few days after the United States spelt out the terms of the punitive sanctions that it wanted to impose on India and Pakistan, which too had conducted nuclear tests. President Clinton had also got the Group of 8 industrialised nations (G-8) and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P-5) to support the U.S. line on sanctions. (Russia is a member of the G-8 and of the P-5.) In the third week of June, the U.S. State Department issued a fact-sheet detailing the extent of the sanctions. One of its provisions specifically barred the export of dual-use technology.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said of Russia's decision to go ahead with the deal: "It is the wrong message at the wrong time and we are going to urge the Russians to reconsider it." Washington has officially asked Moscow to reconsider the deal.

Western diplomatic sources say that Russia is bound by the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, under which reactor technology is to be sold only to countries that have full-scope safeguards on all facilities, that is, countries that permit international inspections. The Koodankulam plant would be subject to safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Rubin said that the U.S. had told Moscow even before the Pokhran tests that selling nuclear reactors to India "was not consistent with Russia's obligation as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group." The deal, said Rubin, "undercuts the good work we have done together in the P-5 and the G-8 to get India to understand that nuclear testing does not bring any rewards."

FROM the Indian point of view, the Koodankalam agreement is a diplomatic morale-booster. Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs said that it signalled a major breach in the international consensus on sanctions against India. With this, Russia became the first country to offer nuclear technology to India in more than 20 years. Indian officials hope that the agreement will encourage countries such as France, which had opposed punitive economic sanctions, to make similar offers.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that his country would continue to cooperate with India on the Koodankulan project. In response to U.S. criticism, Russia's Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Victor Mikhailov said that the agreement did not violate any international treaty to which Russia and India were parties.

Russia is in economic turmoil and is looking to the World Bank-International Monetary Fund to bail it out. President Boris Yeltsin has succumbed to Western pressure on many occasions earlier. The cancellation of the cryogenic engine deal with India is an instance. However, Moscow is unlikely to back down on the Koodankulam issue as it would send a wrong signal to countries with which it has business deals. New Delhi can take heart from the fact that despite sustained pressure from the Clinton administration, Moscow has till date refused to renege on its commitment to build two nuclear power reactors in Iran.

A Russian commentator said that Russia "cannot be drawn into the system of sanctions against India because Russia depends on India to a greater extent in some areas than India depends on Russia. For example, Russia needs the Indian market for its arms exports." Trade with India, especially in military equipment and weapons, fetches Russia about $2 billion annually. And participation in the international sanctions against Iraq and Libya has cost Russia about $10 billion.

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