Sandbagging the NSG

Why did Secretary of State Rice make India the first stop on her whirlwind Asian tour? Perhaps to see if she could sabotage yet one more Iranian deal-in-the-making.

Not content with sabotaging the current Iranian negotiations with the European Union on trade and investment "normalization," Condi whizzed down to New Delhi to prevent India from "finalizing" technical and commercial contracts for a $4.5 billion natural gas pipeline that will provide Iranian natural gas mostly to India.

India, already the world’s sixth largest energy consumer, with consumption rapidly increasing, is relatively energy resource-poor, and is heavily dependent upon imports. For example, India now imports 70 percent of the oil it consumes.

In return for India’s agreement to buy large quantities of pipelined natural gas, Iran has awarded Indian gas companies major service contracts and also granted them participation in refining and other energy related projects to the tune of $40 billion.

India and China were already collaborating in the development of the Yahavaran oil field in Iran. The Indians hope that the India-Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline will come to symbolize a cooperative supplier-consumer approach to development of Asian energy resources.

So, how desperate was Condi to sabotage the burgeoning Russo-Sino-Iranian-Indian energy alliance?

What carrot did Condi offer the Indians to prevent their finalizing the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline deal?

You’ll never guess.

Nuclear power.

But doesn’t Condi know that Russia has already built two 1000 MWe nuclear power plants at Koodankulam and hoped to build four more? And doesn’t she know that Russia and India signed a joint declaration earlier this year designed to expand bilateral linkages in the civilian nuclear sector?

“Both sides are determined to continue their cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, incorporating innovative technologies to ensure energy security, with due regard to their commitments to non-proliferation norms.”

So what is Condi offering that the Russians can’t?

Enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Established in 1974, the 40-plus member NSG includes the five have-nuke states – US, UK, Russia, China and France. NSG “Guidelines for Nuclear Transfer” have long required the acceptance by the recipient state – whether NPT signatory or not – of IAEA Safeguards on certain imported items. For example, there are several nuclear reactors in India – not an NPT signatory – that are subject to IAEA Safeguards.

But, as a consequence of what the International Atomic Energy Agency found in Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War, the NSG soon promulgated “Guidelines for Transfers of Nuclear-Related Dual-Use Equipment, Material and Related Technology.”

Now, if any new NSG transfers are required by NSG Guidelines to be made subject to IAEA Safeguards, the NSG now requires all existing nuclear equipment at all facilities in the country be made subject.

Russia has attempted to support India’s – as well as Iran’s – nuclear programs despite considerable opposition from the US. The US put great pressure on Russia to refrain from building the first two VVER nuclear power plants at Koodankulam. Russia got around that objection by arguing that the original contract for their supply was signed in 1988, before the new and more stringent NSG guidelines came into force in 1992.

Similar objections were raised by the US with respect to Russia’s supply of cryogenic engines for India’s geostationary satellite launch vehicle program. These Russian engines were ultimately supplied without any transfer of the underlying technology.

Russia was able to supply low-enriched uranium for the Tarapur Atomic Power Plant in 2001 on the basis of “safety” considerations. But, even then, the supply had "evoked a very negative reaction from the NSG.”

So, largely as a result of US pressure, the director of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency recently announced that Russia would be unable to supply any more reactors for the Koodankulam nuclear power project, nor be able to supply any more low-enriched uranium fuel for Tarapur.

That is, unless India subjects its entire nuclear program – including its weapons program – to the full-scope (go-anywhere see-anything) IAEA Safeguards regime.

Of course, up until now, India has been unwilling to do that.

So how much does Condi want to isolate Iran? To sabotage the burgeoning Iranian-Chinese-Russian-Indian energy alliance?

Enough to make "exceptions" to US export laws? To allow US-based vendors to construct nuclear power plants in India and supply fuel for them? To sandbag the NSG?

Well, why not. The Bush-Cheney administration – in attacking Iraq and threatening to attack Iran – has already sandbagged the Constitution, the Congress, the UN Security Council, the European Union, the Russians and the IAEA.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.