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– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
G-8 Tightens Nuclear Export Rules
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Daniel Horner

The members of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries agreed to adopt new rules for sensitive nuclear exports, according to a statement released during the group’s July 8-10 summit in L’Aquila, Italy. Subsequent remarks by officials from some of the G-8 countries regarding trade with India, however, seem to be at odds with the G-8 statement.

The new G-8 policy is laid out in a November 2008 document that was originally drafted in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) late last year. The NSG, which now has 46 members, has not been able to reach consensus on that text or any alternative. (See ACT, July/August 2009.)

The G-8 countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—said they “agree to implement this text on a national basis in the next year,” while the full NSG continues to try to reach consensus.

“We urge the NSG to accelerate its work and swiftly reach consensus this year to allow for global implementation of a strengthened mechanism on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing facilities, equipment, and technology,” the G-8 statement said. All the members of the G-8 are also members of the NSG.

The new rules would spell out specific criteria that non-nuclear-weapon states would have to meet to be eligible for exports related to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. According to the text, one of the criteria is that a recipient of such exports must be a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Current NSG guidelines say suppliers should exercise “restraint” in considering requests for such exports.

The G-8 action has caused a stir in India, which is not party to the NPT. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and members of his government said the decision does not undercut the waiver that India received from the NSG a year ago. (See ACT, October 2008.) The waiver allows NSG members to resume major nuclear trade with India, lifting a ban that lasted more than three decades. NSG guidelines prohibit members from sending nuclear fuel, reactors, and other nuclear goods to countries that are not NPT parties. However, in response to an initiative led by the United States, the NSG waived that rule for India in return for a series of nonproliferation commitments from New Delhi.

Indians sometimes refer to the NSG action as a “clean” waiver because it did not specifically exclude any categories of nuclear exports, including those related to enrichment and reprocessing.

Comments by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a July 20 press event in New Delhi seemed to give support to the Indian government’s position. When a reporter asked whether it was the Obama administration’s policy to prevent enrichment- and reprocessing-related transfers by NSG members, she replied, “Well, clearly, we don’t” oppose such transfers, according to a Department of State transcript.

The United States has long opposed such transfers to any state, including India. President George W. Bush’s 2008 transmittal letter to Congress for the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement noted that “[s]ensitive nuclear technology, heavy water production technology and production facilities, sensitive nuclear facilities, and major critical components of such facilities may not be transmitted under the Agreement unless the Agreement is amended.” In responses provided to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November 2005, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph said, “We do not intend to provide enrichment and reprocessing technology to India. We do not currently provide enrichment and reprocessing equipment to any country.”

Asked about the seeming inconsistency with the G-8 statement and long-standing U.S. policy, a State Department spokesperson said in an Aug. 7 e-mail that “U.S. policy has not changed” and is a matter “of public record,” apparently referring to statements such as the ones from Bush and Joseph. The department did not respond to requests to state the current policy or cite a specific previous public statement of it.

Russia also seemed to have varying responses to the question of whether the G-8 action applies to India. In an interview published July 31 in India’s Business Standard, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, Russia’s outgoing ambassador to India, said India was “excluded” from the G-8 action and that Russia’s agreement with India “[d]efinitely” contemplates enrichment and reprocessing technology.

Another Russian source said he thought there was a “misunderstanding.” In an Aug. 4 e-mail, he said, “Russia’s official policy is not to export [enrichment and reprocessing] technologies to anybody because of proliferation concerns.” The only exception, he said, is China, which is one of the five countries that the NPT recognizes as a nuclear-weapon state.

Singh was quoted in the Indian press as saying that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had assured him that France was interested in “full” nuclear cooperation with India, including enrichment and reprocessing.

Asked about the Singh statement, a French source said in a July 28 e-mail that “France will respect its international commitments” but did not provide additional detail.

France, Russia, and the United States are the main countries whose companies are vying for nuclear business with India.