Clinton's India Nuclear Landmine
Image Credit: Marc Nozell

Clinton's India Nuclear Landmine


There was nothing much for India to cheer about as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited New Delhi this week for the second Indo-US Strategic Dialogue with her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna.

Indian concerns about the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group’s recent hardening of Enrichment and Reprocessing technology transfer terms remained unaddressed, while Clinton instead conveyed Washington’s annoyance over Indian nuclear liability laws, which make it possible to seek compensation from suppliers, and asked the UPA government to tweak them further to conform with international liability norms. She also asked India to negotiate with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the legislation, even though there’s no international legal requirement to do so. Finally, she spoke of some ‘remaining issues’ that need to be tackled to enable full implementation of the Indo-US civilian nuclear energy cooperation agreement.

What Clinton didn’t say directly, but what she likely meant, was that unless India dilutes its nuclear liability laws, full implementation of the deal will remain a mirage. It’s clear that although officially the United States is insisting that it will fully implement the nuclear deal, the agreement faces yet another phase of diplomatic rough and tumble. 

The UPA government can’t contemplate diluting the liability laws due to massive domestic pressure. Virtually the entire opposition, from left to right, has pressured Prime Minister Manmohan Singh into hardening liability legislation. Tinkering with this now would therefore be political suicide for his government.

The opposition that Singh would face in making any change was underscored while Clinton was on a visit to Chennai (incidentally the first ever to the southern city by a US secretary of state) as the Communist Party of India (Marxists) issued a hard-hitting statement against Clinton’s advice to India on the liability laws.

The statement said: ‘The United States continues to exercise pressure on the Indian government to dilute the Civil Nuclear Liability law which was adopted by Parliament. This has become evident from the statement made by Hillary Clinton in Delhi asking India to engage with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that the nuclear liability law ‘fully conforms’ with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC). The CSC does not provide for suppliers’ liability in the event of a nuclear accident. The Indian government should reject this suggestion. The IAEA is only a depository for the Convention and cannot judge a law passed by Parliament.’

Clearly, Clinton has stepped on a political landmine in India. Expect more political parties to pile on over this issue.

July 25, 2011 at 20:44

Never to forget the fact that India is holding 30% of thorium reserves of the world and that is the base of India’s vision to finally move to thorium based fuel reactor [Fast Breeder Reactor] and India is a pioneer this technology and in fact a leading nation. Last year its first Fast breeder reactor went critical for testing purpose.

July 24, 2011 at 21:07

Clinton is right to complain. The U.S. and India signed this so called strategic partnership, and India has reneged on every part of the agreement. India was to purchase fighter air craft from the U.S., but it purchased European jets instead. In return for the U.S. getting the IAEA to ease restrictions on India, India was to give U.S. companies contracts to build nuclear plants in India. Then, India passed these liability rules that seem designed to keep out American companies. The nuclear industry in the U.S. is mostly private, and no private company is going to build a nuke plant when faced with such possible liabilities. Instead, India has contracted its nuclear construction to government run entities from Russia, France, etc. India is the one that has behaved in an untrustworthy manner on this subject.

S. Muralidharan
July 23, 2011 at 18:20

Mr. Rajeev, thanks for sharing this information. Any dilution in the 123 Agreement between the USA and India will have, as you mentioned, tough political ramifications from both left and right parties in India.

Under the agreement, as of now, India will be able to develop a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply over the lifetime of its nuclear power reactors. It will also be able to reprocess US-origin nuclear fuel at a special facility under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Indian negotiators had persisted upon reprocessing, which had been central in their plans for nuclear energy development until now, albeit with non-US fuel. Reprocessing liberates unused fissile uranium and produced plutonium from used nuclear fuel to be recycled into fresh fuel. This is a sensitive technology because the separated plutonium could be used to fuel nuclear weapons. NSG’s hardening of stand on Enrichment and Reprocessing technology transfer terms has become a stumbling block for UPA-II. Stepping up pressure on the government at this juncture by the US when the government is already embroiled with a number of domestic issues and expecting them to go back to parliament to get the consensus is next to impossible at this stage.

July 21, 2011 at 17:15

She gets into every big show in town.

Makes a few hot, stunning statements.

Gets out of town..leaving everyone flustered..!?

Good old American gal.

July 21, 2011 at 14:50

Hillary Clinton upsets everybody, not just Indians.

She is a typical white American from the Bible belt.

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